In the final weeks of eighth grade, invitations printed on fake Vellum and wrapped prettily in gold-detailed envelopes arrived on the desks of thirty students at my Middle School. Each one cordially invited the kid and their parents to an evening ceremony for the end-of-year Special Honors Awards. The honorees would enjoy a special luncheon the day of the event, and dessert would be served that evening for parents and geniuses–er, award winners. The only thing this party was missing was a red carpet and annoying PR agents, ‘naw mean?
When I received my envelope, I opened it slowly to make sure the gold lines didn’t tear. Then I carefully unfolded the card and let my eyes feast on the words nice and long. Twenty minutes later, after skipping out of class, I called my parents to share the good news.
“What award are you winning?” my mother asked. I didn’t know.
After receiving a B- in 6th grade Art, a B+ in 7th grade P.E., and a B in 8th grade Advanced Social Studies, I knew I wasn’t being honored for my stellar grades. (For the record, what kind of devil gives an Asian kid a B- in Art? Have they no mercy?)
“Maybe ‘Best Writer’ or ‘Student of the Year?’” I guessed, begging my mom to cancel all dinner plans and make my father promise not to wear anything embarrassing to the Awards.
On the big night, I sat in a dark floral dress in a squeaky metal folding chair near the auditorium stage. After seeing my friend Margaux receive the GPA award, Doug the presidential fitness award, and Casey the Leadership Excellence award, I started biting my nails. Was I going to have to deliver a tearful speech after receiving “Smartest Person Ever?” I practiced the wink and smile I was going to direct at my proud parents, while they clapped and cried.
“And our last award is something very special,” beamed the principal. “We rarely see a student that shows this much dedication to learning and don’t always give this award.”
I straightened up. She announced my name.
“For three years of perfect attendance. An impressive feat by any standard.” she finished, clapping with my award in her hands as I stumbled, humiliated, up to the stage.
The first thing I did was yank the wrinkled paper from her grasp. The next thing I did was immediately meet my parents’ horrified, shamed stare–the look only perfectly unimpressed Asian parents can truly manage.
This moment has since replayed only about 200 times in my head in the years since, but never so clearly as it did today when I learned that Singaporean singer JJ Lin recently snagged the world record for most autographs signed in a single sitting.
First I was embarrassed for him—then I became ashamed of myself.
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