Here’s a story I’ve never told anyone. When I was in high school, I got kicked out of UCLA before I even got in. See, you apply to college around the beginning of your senior year, and you find out closer to graduation if you got accepted. I was a pretty good student in high school. I got good grades and ranked 50 overall in a senior class of several hundred people. Not bad. UCLA was my school of choice and to my excitement, I got in! But here’s the catch, all universities have requirements you must fulfill even after getting accepted, otherwise your application is revoked. In my case, I had to maintain above an unweighted 3.0 GPA and not get anything lower than a C. No problem, I thought, I’ve been a good student all my life; this will be a walk in the park.
I was wrong.
There’s this teacher named Dr. Won who teaches intermediate to advanced level Chinese. Throughout my time at George Washington High School, I’ve always heard terrible stories about how she’d flunk her students for no reason, how she’d make everybody sing terrible songs, and not to mention, the outrageous Snoopy outfits she’d wear to school everyday. I never thought that I’d ever have to take her class, but lo and behold, there I was sitting in her classroom my senior year of high school.
From the first day I knew it’d be bad because she immediately split the class into two groups. This was done rather deliberately, and while nobody said it, it was quite obvious that she separated the smart people from the dumb people. Me? I was in the dumb group. I didn’t mind though, as I was surrounded by all my awesome friends. (Funny how the worst situations can always be made better with good company, huh?)
So this was how bad the class was. Not only did we not learn anything at all, but we also had to put together these ridiculous 2-inch binders filled with so much useless crap that I could never even fit it into my backpack. In addition, we had to spend hours on end gluing together pieces of lined paper, folding it perfectly so they fit back into our fat binders. Then, we’d top it all off by doing fake calligraphy. I say fake calligraphy because we had to draw oversized Chinese characters with No. 2 pencils and make it look like calligraphy. It was very tedious work, and I’m sure she was aware of that. How did she grade these assignments? By how nicely you glued together your pieces of paper, which, needless to say, took forever, and how nicely you drew the Chinese characters. Everybody hated her class. No matter how meticulous and detailed we were in putting together these monstrous pieces of artwork, she’d always find a way to mark it all up with her red sharpie and tell you to do it all over again. In addition to seeing our life’s work go to complete waste, we had to endure listening to her stories about how much she loves Snoopy day in and day out. Some days I would even forget that I was supposed to be learning Chinese.
Still, if you were able to keep your head down, not make too much of a ruckus, and just do the work, it was manageable. Like I said, I had awesome friends beside me in the “dumb” section so it was all good. My first semester? I got a C. No idea how that happened, but no matter, my overall GPA was still above a 3.0. I still met the requirements for getting into my dream school.
My second semester was a little different.
I’m not too sure what this was contingent on, but I’m guessing it was on a general bias she had toward certain students and this one huge assignment we had.
Remember those lined papers we had to glue together? And those giant Chinese characters we had to draw? Well, our final project was this, on steroids. It took forever, but my final product was a work of art. She’d love it, I thought to myself. It was the end of second semester already, the year was about to end, I’m about to graduate, and I’m sure this would garner me at least a B. Plus, enough time has passed for me to perfect this useless piece of craftsmanship. I’m sure this time, I will be able to bypass any and all imperfections she always seemed to find through her thick bifocals. Red sharpie? She would have no use for it this time.
But when I went to turn it in, she wouldn’t take it. She said I was late, even though I was obviously on time, as she was accepting the assignments of people who were coming in after me. I didn’t understand. It didn’t make any sense. This would lower my final grade by a whole letter, but I couldn’t do anything about it. When I asked for an explanation, she quickly flipped through the pages I painstakingly worked on and effortlessly vomited all over it with her red sharpie.
I had to do it all over again. I turned it in the next day. Fingers crossed.
Once again, I was wrong.
When I got my report card I was shocked because not only did I get a D-, my GPA was now below 3.0, and as expected, my letter of rejection from UCLA came promptly after that. “We regret to inform you that…” etc. Whatever, you get the message. I got kicked out of UCLA.
This sucked. I mean, it really sucked. I couldn’t tell anyone. How could I? I just told the entire world that I got into UCLA. Now I need to tell everyone that I’m not going anymore? How embarrassing. I would be the laughing stock of the century. So I kept it a secret, but the last few weeks leading up to my graduation was a nightmare. I went straight to my counselor, Mr. Kozak, who everyone also seemed to hate, but fortunately for me, we seemed to get along. I asked for his help…
OK fine, I begged.
What we had to do was to build a case. We had to explain to UCLA that Dr. Won is the type of teacher who had been at the school for so long and had such seniority, that despite the fact that she ruins the futures of students, the school cannot do anything about it. We tried to do the obvious. Ask her why I got a D-, request if I could do any sort of extra credit to raise my grade. None of it worked. She wasn’t budging. My only other option was to go to all my other teachers – I had six other teachers at the time – and ask, ok fine, beg! them to raise my grade. This was very annoying, not to mention embarrassing. I’m not going to lie, I was not the best student my very last semester in high school. Then again, I was not expecting to get hit with a D-. I did all the extra credit I could to raise my grades, but that only worked so much. What I had to do was explain my situation to all my teachers how Dr. Won was completely screwing me over, hoping that they could identify with my situation, and raise my grade to balance out the damage she did. It worked on some, it didn’t work on others.
Meanwhile, my counselor and I were trying our hardest to put together a letter of appeal explaining my situation. Even the school dean and principle stepped in. I still remember driving over to his house to drop off my letter the night before graduation. That’s right. I still didn’t know if I was going to UCLA, or college in fact.
I also remember having to go to school particularly early on graduation day to speak with one of the career counselors and see if she heard anything back about my status at UCLA. As you can tell, I was reaching out to anybody who could help me.
It was 1 hour before graduation.
She didn’t hear anything back.
I get teary eyed.
She immediately consoles and tells me that everything will be okay.
“Today, you are graduating. You’ve put in four great years of work into this school, and you will walk across that stage with your head up.”
Graduation was fun. I was part of band all 4 years, and ever since I was a freshman, there I’d be, playing the graduation song for all of our ceremonies. This time, it was my turn to walk across the stage as “Pomp and Circumstance” filled the air. I was quite proud, though it was bittersweet.
I found out a month later that everything worked out. Not only were some of my teachers willing to raise my grade, but the letter of appeal also worked. I was going to UCLA after all. Thank God.
I don’t really know what the moral of this story is, other than the fact that I just wanted to tell it. Perhaps it’s a lesson that sometimes, life takes a giant shit on you for no apparent reason, and you just have to figure it out. You can figure it out, in fact. You just have to trust that there are many people out there ready and willing to help you. You also have to have the courage to admit you need help in the first place. Oh, and cover your ass and don’t take shortcuts. You never know when life will come back and bite you.
The 4 years I spent at UCLA were some of the best years of my life. It was at UCLA where I first discovered my voice. It’s a little shocking to know that all of that could’ve been taken away so easily. But perhaps it is the fragility and elusiveness of it all that compels me to continue sharing my stories with you today.
by Jason Lam