In grade 8, I hated math and science. I really did, even though I was pretty good at these subjects. I mean, who in grade 8 wouldn’t be good at a subject they just copied off the smartest kid in class, right? I admit it. I didn’t do well in school, but that didn’t matter to me at that point. I remember one time this classmate of mine outright called me stupid and that I was going nowhere in life. Ouch. Thirteen year old girls can be really mean sometimes, huh? But, she was right. I had no goal in life and no vision. I was just a naïve thirteen year old kid who just wanted to “graduate high school and go straight to work”. I didn’t want a university education.
Fast forward to the first day of high school. I had absolutely no idea what to expect and I definitely didn’t see how my life would turn out the way it did. When I found out that I could CHOOSE my courses in my junior and senior years of high school, I automatically ruled out maths and sciences. I wanted to breeze through high school and get out as soon as possible. The first day of grade 9 math is a fond memory for me. The teacher came in to the classroom and pulled out a deck of flash cards. He said, “everyone line up; you have three seconds to answer each card. If you’re right, go to the back of the line. If you’re wrong, sit down. Last person standing gets $5.” Obviously, I was motivated by the monetary prize. I answered the first flash card: “6 times 2 is 12.” Easy peasy lemon squeezy, as the teacher would say.
One by one, people got eliminated from this mental exercise. I ended up being in the top four out of thirty people. Even though I didn’t win the $5, I still did pretty well. After feeling stupid (and not caring) in middle school, I felt like I’ve achieved something big. This one girl in my class even called me the “smart kid”. That felt good. I began to think that I might actually like math. A year later, I had to choose my courses for grade 11. The problem was that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do and the course that was supposed to help me decide (i.e, careers class) wasn’t scheduled for me until AFTER I chose my courses. I decided to take English (mandatory), functions (mandatory), the history of genocide, accounting, band, economics, gym and computer programming. At this point of my life, I wanted to be a movie director. I don’t know why, I just did. (Well, that didn’t really happen.)
It wasn’t until later on that my cousin-in-law (an industrial engineer) suggested I go into engineering. He told me that the field would open up many more opportunities for me in the future. So being the type of person that actually started to care about my future career, I decided to do a bit of research with my best online tool: Wikipedia! The way that the engineering discipline was described on Wikipedia made it sound pretty interesting, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I went to the guidance counselor and switched accounting and band for chemistry and physics. This one little process that took five to ten minutes changed the whole course of my life; I was now on the start of the path to becoming an engineer.
It was grade 12 and my courses were English, advanced functions, calculus, physics, chemistry and data management. If you were to ask my grade 9 self what courses he would take in grade 12, there is no way on Earth he would list the courses I just did. But people change, right?
Even though I had amazing marks throughout high school (I decided to work harder than I originally planned because I realized I could actually fail), I had absolutely no extracurricular activities under my belt. So what I did to put some things on my university application was join the cooking club… and the physics club.
The cooking club was fun. I learned a few recipes (that I’ve now forgotten) but most of it was just having the grade 10’s in the club do all the cooking and my friends and I (the grade 12’s) do absolutely nothing but eat.
However, it was the physics club that really sold me to engineering. Yeah, we spent half of the year preparing for the Sir Isaac Newton Physics Contest, but the highlight was building a hovercraft from scratch. Using a Styrofoam with a wooden interior support and a leaf blower as the engine, the challenge was overcome. You know that scene in a NASA control room where they all start clapping because of a successful landing? Well, this is exactly what happened when we turned on the hovercraft and it worked. It felt good. It felt better than good. For the first time, I’ve seen my ideas and hard work come to life. We were all standing and just clapping. I’m sure that the other people in the room had the same feeling as I did: a feeling of accomplishment and happiness.This was the moment of my life when I knew I wanted to become a mechanical engineer. One downside of the physics club is that we were called the “stage crew” in the year book. Oh well.
And now here I am. Approximately four years after that moment and eight years after the beginning of high school (wow, time flies) and I’m a completely different person. I have goals and I work hard every day to achieve them. Sometimes I look back and wonder what my thirteen year old self would think of my present self. He would probably disapprove of what he would eventually become (judging from his lifestyle and opinions), but what does he know? I’m currently doing my PEY, so I’m pretty close to finishing my undergraduate degree. It’s been (so far) a long journey, but every moment of it was worth it. I’ve made many great friends and shared even more memories. These are and will be some of the best years of my life.
My name is Raymond Luu, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Toronto, and this is my story.