I’ve heard the word “No” said after my first name so many times. “David, no you can’t do this” — or “‘David, no’ people just don’t do that.”
Or just — “David. No.”
I’ve heard the word “No” after my name so many times in part because I push the boundaries of what’s conventional, and in part because that’s how you pronounce my last name (Ngo) — “No.”
***Flashback to 2008***
My mom picked up the phone and started talking to a distant relative; we weren’t very close. And it was clear that they was not calling to see how we were doing, but to compare their son with me during high school graduation season.
“So, where’s David applying to college?” this relative innocuously asked.
“Oh, UVA (University of Virginia), William & Mary, and also trying for Stanford. But we’ll see. Who knows what will happen?” my mom replied.
“STANFORD? You need a 2400 to get into Stanford. David, no he can’t do it. That’s impossible.”
My mom relayed that statement to me after the phone conversation; she wasn’t upset — she was even calm when she told me.
But, hearing what my relative had said made me livid. I was pissed.
This is a recap of what went on in my mind for a couple of minutes:
“Who is this distant relative to say that I CAN’T DO IT?
Distant relative don’t know me. Relative called just to *compare*.
Ugh, I hate when that’s their intention of asking.
Wait a minute… If this is their mindset — this limited negative mindset — isn’t that contagious? Isn’t that the limited lens that their spreading in their family? Their community? Hm…”
During college application season, I had procrastinated on writing my Stanford essays. During that procrastination period, the events above unfolded. And I realized that it was meant to be shared in my Stanford essays. Here it is copied below (edited to provide anonymity to my relative’s gender):
Question: Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. What would you want your freshman year roommate to know about you? Tell us something about you that will help your roommate — and us — know you better.
“STANFORD!? It’s REALLY hard to get in. You need a 2400. It’s impossible. David can’t do it.” When Mom told me a relative said this to her, I was furious. Adding oil to the fire, Relative called not to genuinely ask how we were doing. Instead, Relative only called to know about my academics, such as my grades and SAT score, prospective universities, and bragging about Relative’s own child. Then, Relative blatantly told my mom that I could not achieve something!? How negative, pessimistic, and selfish can a person be!?
I have been raised to believe smart-hard work will bring success, and limitations are temporary. This was the first time I have been doubted. Immediately, my anger shadowed my positive reasons of applying to Stanford: I wanted to prove this relative wrong! When my anger disappeared, I started thinking normally–positively.
If Relative is so close-minded, will Relative’s children be strongly influenced as well? Will said children limit their possibilities of colleges and begin a cycle of limited thinking and shrunken dreams? Attending Stanford will feel great to prove this relative wrong, but it will feel even greater to know that I have cracked open a slight hole in this large sphere of limited thinking.
Gratitude is what I have for that relative now. Gratitude, punctured with spikes of frustration and anger, is what meets my “No”s. That “No” happened in 2008.
And it didn’t stop there.
I met it again during my time at Stanford from a handful of staff/professors. I met it again with my own mother during college. And I meet “No” within myself, almost every single day.
Optimism and positivity has been integrated throughout my being. But it hasn’t helped me transcend the “No”s from the world, from loved ones, or from myself.
I love my life, myself, and those around me in the past, present, & future. But, I have yet to consistently meet a “David, no” with full gratitude and love.
And that’s okay. Because I’m on my way one moment at a time.