Kirkland Hall is an administrative building on Vanderbilt’s campus. (Hustler Multimedia/Emily Gonçalves) (Emily Gonçalves)
Kirkland Hall is an administrative building on Vanderbilt’s campus. (Hustler Multimedia/Emily Gonçalves)

Emily Gonçalves

NGUYEN: Unwelcome at Vanderbilt: a transfer’s discontents

Following a semester and a half of disregard for the wellbeing of the student body, it has become clear that Vanderbilt needs a shocking introduction to the lives of their most marginalized to be persuaded to properly care for us.

March 14, 2021

Editor’s Note: This piece contains brief mention of sexual assault

I knew my life changed the moment I transferred to Vanderbilt. I had taken the first step towards ending the cycle of poverty that my family has struggled to escape. 

Years prior, I had relied on prostitution to covertly amass a savings sufficient to escape poverty. The oldest profession quickly became my lifeline—it was the fastest means of reaping the financial capital necessary to build another life. Mere hours with clients would allow me to make enough money to cover my monthly expenses; though, it came at a greater emotional toll. Unfortunately, such work diverted attention from my educational pursuits, as I needed to focus on securing more clientele to weather the costly city of San Francisco. Thus, I did not have the time to acquire the study skills and education necessary to flourish in academia. 

Despite my personal shortcomings, I secured a flawless academic record at my previous institution. Soon after, I transferred to Vanderbilt, excited to boost my resume and reap social mobility benefits elite schools granted their poorest students. Statistics relayed in a New York Times interactive article highlighting economic diversity at elite schools are impressive—59 percent of students from the bottom 20 percent had climbed to the top 20 percent. Should I succeed at Vanderbilt, I would be able to compete within the oversaturated Bay Area job-applicant pool that boasted degrees from elite universities.

For months, I basked in the glory of my acceptance to Vanderbilt as I imagined a new life for myself—one in which I could finally prioritize my educational pursuits in biology and medicine. Here, nationally-renowned instructors could mold me into a cultured individual, ready to become a medical professional. 

Once admitted, I became desperate to set myself up for a lucrative career that did not rely on risking arrest in California, sexual assault and sexual health risks like sex work does. Consequently, I believed my Vanderbilt educational experience needed to be academically perfect to maximize my chances of escape. In my mind, imperfection would increase the probability of leaving Vanderbilt without academic success and increased job prospects. Failure would force me to return to prostitution, a profession I had abandoned for a year, that no longer aligned with my long-term goals. 

As the Fall 2020 semester began, classes quickly became difficult—a tale unsurprising to other pre-med students. An increase in difficulty was expected, especially when transitioning from an academically easy school to a rigorous one. I had come here for a challenge.

Shortly into the Fall 2020 semester, an apparent disparity between my previous educational experiences and those of my classmates at Vanderbilt came to head. The prerequisites at my prior institution were incomprehensive compared to Vanderbilt’s, failing to prepare me for Vandy’s upper division classes. However, I could not retake the prerequisite classes, as doing so would have forced me to enroll in an extra year of college—one Vanderbilt was unlikely to fund. Therefore, I compounded on incomplete foundational knowledge with advanced material.

No amount of tutoring or attendance in office hours would have allowed me to master the years-worth of necessary prerequisite knowledge alongside successive class material before midterms in the coming weeks. 

To be successful, students like myself, who were accustomed to underfunded, easier curricula, would require tailored teaching methods. Many professors did not consider educational histories like mine and failed to adjust their teaching styles accordingly. Requesting personal accommodations from instructors was not an option. Doing so would require me to expose my hardships and humiliate myself. At best, their perception of the student revealing such a story would be permanently altered. I did not want to be known as the poor prostitute of Vanderbilt. 

As I struggled to recuperate time lost to learning prerequisite material, any academic success came at the cost of a decline in my mental health. Adding insult to injury, Vanderbilt stripped students of any breaks in the Spring 2021 semester. Even being a step behind my peers during midterms season became mentally taxing as I failed to master rudimentary knowledge and the steady stream of advanced material in time before midterms.

Here, the headwinds that dominated my life were at full force. For the first time since high school, the possibility of academic failure loomed. I did not want to replicate my imperfect high school record—which comprised the occasional failing grade—in college. Here, academic failure would have costlier consequences—I could be shackled to a life I wanted to leave behind. 

It is not difficult to understand why Vanderbilt does not cater its academic policies toward students like me. After all, Vanderbilt mostly comprises moderately well-off to well-off students who have the tailwinds needed to familiarize themselves with the prerequisite knowledge throughout their lives.

Following a semester and a half of disregard for the wellbeing of the student body, it has become clear that Vanderbilt needs a shocking introduction to the lives of their most marginalized to be persuaded to properly care for us. 

Of course, focusing solely on reinstating spring break will fail to address the systemic roots of the problems I am facing. The issues I face are seen amongst many disadvantaged students who, despite meeting college entry requirements, consistently underperform compared to their advantaged counterparts. 

Instructors must frame their curricula by finding ways to supplement learning deficits that fall through the cracks of Vanderbilt’s equal access accommodations, perhaps by creating optional supplemental instruction periods or summer/winter programs without credit to emphasize prerequisite knowledge. Still, the university must go beyond opt-in tutoring resources to further equalize adjustment period opportunities from high school or other colleges to Vanderbilt. Such an environment can be created if Vanderbilt adopts an MIT policy requiring first-years to take classes on a pass/no-record grading scale during their first semester to adjust to the rigorous curricula. Should the administration adopt this grading system, they should extend coverage to incoming transfer students. In doing so, they will create an environment where students—especially disadvantaged ones—can experiment with various learning styles to adjust to the new levels of rigor. 

Amongst the Class of 2023, 17 percent of students constituted Pell Grant recipients—students unlikely to have seen tailwinds throughout their lives. As Vanderbilt pines to diversify their student body, the demand for integration initiatives will increase. Failing to provide such opportunities will compromise their well-intended mission of providing disadvantaged students with social mobility benefits. Then, it would then be irresponsible for Vanderbilt to accept marginalized students regardless of their generous financial aid programs, as they would be setting us up for academic and economic failure.  

Vanderbilt did not rescue me. Their decisions have placed me at risk of being in a worse state than at my previous school, which, while imperfect, took time to integrate students like myself into higher education. Here, I am less likely to enjoy the benefits of academic success that I have relied on for social mobility and increased job prospects. Still hopeful to secure a middle to upper-middle class lifestyle, I have shifted my focus from academic perfection to maintenance of a sufficient GPA. Vanderbilt’s failure to act immediately will further inhibit the success of students like myself, making it harder to reap the benefits of a Vanderbilt degree and escape our marginalization. 

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Comments (71)

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B
BmoreVandyAlum
3 months ago

Danny, opinion/advice from a 43 year old alumnus:

Opinion: Generally, professors shouldn’t adjust their curricula or tailor their teaching to ensure that floundering students succeed in their courses. It would be great if Vanderbilt had programs/resources for talented students, both freshman and transfers, who didn’t have the advantage of rigorous prior curricula through no fault of their own.

Advice: you said that it was “unlikely” Vanderbilt would fund the duplicative or additional coursework you required to succeed in upper level pre-Med course work. Have you asked? Looked at other scholarship possibilities? Because if you don’t have the knowledge base to succeed in upper level courses, there’s not a lot that a Professor can do. Also, if your sincere goal is to become an MD, taking out a student loan for a semester, or even a year of duplicative coursework is a fraction of the student loan debt you’re going to build during medical school. But doctors make a healthy salary, some more than healthy, so that should (or should have been) taken into account when choosing to forego re-taking lower level courses. Also, it would have been nice for someone to have explained to you that your undergrad institution doesn’t make a ton of difference in getting into Med school. Graduating at the top of your class at UCSF is probably better on a medical school application than graduating middle of your class at Vanderbilt. Further, going to a top tier medical school is nice, but not the end all be all of becoming a doctor. Sure, there’s a correlation between doctor’s abilities and the selectivity of their med school, but there are plenty of lousy doctors that went to Hopkins or Harvard med, and plenty of good ones that couldn’t even get into a stateside school and went to med school in the caribbean.

O
Oliver
1 year ago

“I did not want to be known as the poor prostitute of Vanderbilt.”
If you wanted to avoid this, maybe an article that mentions you being a prostitute in the third sentence isn’t a great idea.

L
Laura Lee MOTT
1 year ago

‘If it doesn’t kill us it makes us stronger.’

‘Where one door closes another door opens.’

Getting off track can be very painful, but a lot of times it is the most difficult change in life that leads us to appreciate the true joys.

S
Stephen rosberg
1 year ago

Why are you so consumed with living an upper middle class life. So what if you grew up poor. Why not aspire to being happy and living a comfortable modest life and not worry about keeping up with the Jones’. I came from an upper middle class upbringing but didn’t end up in the upper middle class life I grew up in. But I have a cute as a button little house that is paid completely off and I have a nice little low paying job that I enjoy very much. I dont care nor put any kind of label on myself. Think about it.

Last edited 1 year ago by Stephen rosberg
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Ron Wilson
1 year ago

Quit your whining.

J
Jay F
1 year ago

I also struggled with the curriculum at Vanderbilt, as I graduated from a very small high school, without the luxury of AP classes to “prepare”

Most universities are tough. Vanderbilt is tougher. Ivy league sits at yet another level. Did you not understand Vanderbilt was a top 15 university? Nothing is easy in this world.

Get used to it

VU’89

Last edited 1 year ago by Jay F
M
Maureen
1 year ago

Danny – you wanted to go to Vanderbilt because of the value of that diploma from a prestigious university. What you seem to not understand is that the diploma is valued because of the rigorous curriculum. Don’t ask the university to “dumb down” the curriculum to meet your needs. Rather, the expectation should be how can the University help you come up to the level of knowledge of your peers? It may mean repeating your freshman year, but you seem not to be willing to do that. Med schools will accept you based on the assumed knowledge a Vanderbilt degree implies. If VU gave you shortcuts, you’d get to med school and have the same issues. There are thousands of VU grads (even from privileged backgrounds) who couldn’t get into med school, but still are successful. Why not change your major to something less difficult with higher earning power? Major in business, IT… go into consulting

D
Dan
1 year ago

I just read the comments of many who feel that Vanderbilt is Danny’s problem. GET REAL! Danny is not prepared for pre-med or for any top school. If he should ever becomes a doctor, I hope I never am one of his patients. Why does he feel entitled? Good colleges accept and help students succeed academically and financially. Vanderbilt is a leader in doing this. Danny needs to take a hard look in the mirror.
Vanderbilt should continue being the great school it has become.

D
Dan
1 year ago

Non-sense. Vanderbilt is and will continue to be an elite academic school. It is not the school for everyone, nor should it be. I attended a school that was at the best level for me. I was successful and went on to get an MA at a highly regarded university. Further, I went on to a most successful professional career. Vanderbilt and other schools like it already offer ample opportunities for those less prepared. Seek your preparation level and move on.

J
James
1 year ago

Sounds like they are actually doing well but have imposter syndrome. Hang in there Danny focus on your self and not the system and it sounds like you’ll do fine.

I am middle class, first generation college student my sister and I went to the same university. She failed out of premed and I am in now in a PhD. Circumstances were the same for us but skill was not.

F
Friend
1 year ago

Maybe transfer Students should complete an entrance exam. VU should not dilute the academic structure.

D
1 year ago

Is this satire?

W
wow this is so bad
1 year ago

Danny, I’m deeply sorry that you have to deal with the shocking ignorance that people are displaying in the comments of this article. Please don’t let them affect you.
Vanderbilt has an endowment equivalent to that of a moderately sized hedge fund. The institution clearly has the ability to provide the resources and students, but they’re choose not to. If they want to be an equitable institution, they need to give both you and students coming from similar environments the resources to thrive. By not, they are giving the students who grew up with money and privilege an incredible advantage over those who did not. Vanderbilt would be perpetuating the system of classism that runs rampant throughout much of higher education. If Vanderbilt wants to follow their self-stated mission statement of “service to the community and society”, then they have to provide you the tools that will give him an even playing field.
I would also like to reiterate that Vanderbilt assisting Danny would be an evening of the playing field and not a “free hand out”. Saying that Danny is “not Vanderbilt material”, which is what a Vanderbilt parent said below, is wildly ignorant at absolute best. I actually cannot believe this needs to be said, but people coming from backgrounds like Danny’s aren’t any less capable. They just simply haven’t had the resources to fully express their full capacity. Good luck Danny.

J
Jack
1 year ago

Cry me a river…

S
student
1 year ago

what if we kissed in the comments section of a danny nguyen article haha jk unless

G
Gigi
1 year ago

You’ve clearly suffered a lot and aren’t doing yourself any favors by staying at Vanderbilt. I know a lot of people who went to school there and have done pretty well. I also know more who have done average or worse. Having worked in both finance and medicine alongside graduates from elite schools and state schools, I can tell you that it’s grit and determination that gets you where you want to be. You have those things. If the environment is toxic, leave and go to a less prestigious school where you will thrive and be mentally healthy.

H
Hannah Sterling
1 year ago

Danny, thank you for sharing your story. I’m really sorry that some of the people in these comments have been so brainwashed by archaic and patriarchal values that they are making comments about your character. I really appreciate that you are shedding light on the vast socioeconomic inequality at Vanderbilt. I agree with you that in accepting low-income and otherwise marginalized students, Vanderbilt is taking responsibility for their education and should offer better accommodations for these students – and it’s further worth noting that Vanderbilt profits off of having these students to talk about on their brochures. The people in the comments who disagree with this fundamental argument are showing their privilege. These are people that have never had to contemplate taking on something like sex work (which of course should not carry shame), but does carry an emotional toll, as you stated. I think the wealthy students at Vanderbilt who refuse to see the obvious reality that their success is supported by their wealth and background need to seriously think about what a life in poverty, and with the risks you highlight that sex work carries, would be like. It’s also really frustrating to see competitive “bootstraps” comments from other Vanderbilt students and alums. They need to understand that just because their lives were hard too, it doesn’t mean yours should have to be as well. And also, I have yet to see a commenter who has shared your exact experience, so I don’t know why they think their comparisons shed any light on your situation. I don’t agree with everything in this article – for example, I don’t think professors should be expected to tailor their curricula to each student. But I think some of the solutions you outline, like Vanderbilt adopting a policy similar to MIT’s, seem promising. I hope that this article inspires Vanderbilt to do more to bridge the socioeconomic gap and I really hope things start looking up for you and wish you the best in your dermatological pursuits.
I also wanted to address something that several other commenters have brought up: “pre-med is hard, it’s a weed-out field, not everyone can hack it (regardless of their socioeconomic background, etc.” Once Vanderbilt has accepted a student, they shouldn’t need to weed them out any further. Shouldn’t the admissions process be a weed-out in and of itself? Danny and everyone else at Vanderbilt was accepted because we were deemed up to the level of rigor here, and Vanderbilt should do everything in its power to make sure all of its students reach their full potential. College is supposed to level the playing field, because all students supposedly have the same opportunities and access once at Vanderbilt. But if the school accepts people, knowing that we are all arriving on campus with different backgrounds, it is taking on a responsibility to address that disparity.

C
Chuck
1 year ago

At least half of the guys on my freshman hall were premed at the start. Needless to say, Vandy burst their bubbles such that the only guy who ended up being a doctor was a guy smart enough to know that he needed to transfer to a state college after our freshman year where his grades would be better so that he might have a chance to get into med school. And he succeeded.
Meanwhile Danny suffers the same fate as thousands before her no matter their wealth or whatever tailwind they might have had or didn’t have, and then wants to complain that Vandy needs to coddle people like her because she is a minority, comes from a less affluent family, and showed up underprepared for what is probably the most demanding curriculum at Vandy!?!?!? What does she want, a separate educational track?  Vandy has never cared about anyone who went through the premed buzz saw no matter whether they were rich, poor, white, black, Asian, etc. It’s the real world. Either you cut it or you don’t.  This is not intended to be meanspirited. These are just the facts of life. If she thinks undergrad at Vandy was hard, med school is only worse.

M
Marina
1 year ago
Reply to  Chuck

It’s really interesting that you assume Danny is a woman, despite Danny being more commonly a man’s name. Danny is in fact a man. I assume this is because sex workers are usually stereotyped to be women. Of course there is no shame in being a sex worker, but I think it’s important to recognize that it isn’t exclusively a female space.

W
W J
11 months ago
Reply to  Marina

No shame in being a sex worker? If your child turned out to be a sex worker you wouldn’t feel ashamed?

J
Jenna
1 year ago

For anyone who reads this, please count how many times the words “I,” “my,” “me,” and “myself” are used. The only cause the writer cares about is . . . Danny Nguyen. Danny tells us of accomplishments: “I secured a flawless academic record.” Danny tells us of victimhood:the systemic roots of the problems I am facing,” and why Danny doesn’t want “to expose my hardships and humiliate myself,” and that “the issues I face are seen amongst many disadvantaged students,” and that “I could be shackled to a life I wanted to leave behind.” Danny is all about . . . Danny. Please look beyond yourself, Danny. There are people out there who suffer and have suffered far more than you.

H
Hannah H
1 year ago
Reply to  Jenna

Just because other people have suffered more does not mean that Danny did not also suffer.

A
Alexis
1 year ago
Reply to  Hannah H

Well said Hannah.

@Jenna, its not a pissing contest for who suffered more. Nyugen is telling the story of Nyugen, that is why there is an abundance of personal pronouns.
If your issue with how the story was told lies more so with the attitude or the subtle deflection of troubles that are within the scope of individual, personal control, there are better ways you could have communicated that.

J
Jenna
1 year ago
Reply to  Alexis

@Alexis, I understand from your use of a crude colloquialism that you think we should not compare people. But why not? You don’t give any good reason. I think comparison essential to put Danny’s complaints in context. If we don’t compare ourselves to others, we see only our petty gripes magnified in hall of mirrors we’ve created for ourselves. I know that’s where Danny lives, but I’m sad you live there too. Consider this, Danny Nyguen is an at elite academic institution. There are millions of people in the world (probably millions in India alone) who would love to take Danny’s spot and have the opportunities Danny has. Yet here is Danny – to borrow your favorite word – pissing all over them. It is sickening.

C
Chris
1 year ago

You’re right and you should say it. Between all of the prep school/private school kids coming into college with years of college prep, and white Greek life’s horrible testbanking/cheating practices, they haven’t had to REALLY work for their grade like everyone else. They’ve never actually dealt with struggling with material and working to get past it. That’s why they’re mad at this article. They assume that you mentioning the weeding out process is *exactly that*, that you’re lazy, because it doesn’t line up with their experiences. That’s not the case, but they will pretend like it is to maintain their insular view of the college experience.

N
n/a
1 year ago

As a former premed transfer I fully hear and relate to your struggles. I couldn’t afford to join Greek life and have access to things like test banks and was blindsided to the rigor of STEM that was “easy” to those who could afford the tutors and Greek life or even to not work while in school.
Resulting, I had to take a leave of absence due to the stress of full time academics, involvement, research and having a full time job. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get easier. The lack of support from the university academically left a stain of the friendships and other experience I was able to have while at Vandy.

R
Reality Check
1 year ago

I empathize with our situation, you have clearly been through a lot and worked hard to make it to Vanderbilt. However, this school is not easy, and if you expected it to be so maybe you should have stayed ate your previous institution. In your article you said that you hoped Vanderbilt would make it easier for you to pursue your academic pursuits in biology and medicine, but all you seem to care about is socioeconomic mobility. Income is clearly a factor in determining a career, but if you care about biology that much, why not get a PhD. Otherwise, just admit that you only care about money. Don’t get me wrong, that’s nothing to be ashamed of, except in a few cases.

One of those such cases is the field of medicine. There is currently a shortage of primary care providers, not “Cosmetic Dermatologists” which you mention is the career you aspire to achieve. People who go into medicine for the money are not only selfish to their patients, but to themselves and their families. Why go through so much schooling if you can get a job you actually like after college, work just as hard, and probable end up better off financially. Medicine does not need more avaricious pricks. If you are one of these pricks, then Vanderbilt is doing the right thing by weeding you out.

Save yourself the trouble and just drop pre-med. If you truly cared about the course material you called your “academic pursuit,” you would have spent your time studying instead of writing this pathetic article. You are not special. School is hard for everyone, especially for pre-meds, and especially during Covid. Should you eventually get into medical school you will realize that it does not get easier. The same goes for dermatology, which is literally the most competitive specialty in medicine. If you can’t even succeed at Vandy, what makes you think you’ll be able to in med school.

Regardless of what you may think, you are lucky to be here. Not only did you chose Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt chose you and gave you the monetary support necessary to attend. You achieved an honor that few are ever have the privilege of experiencing. You have the opportunity to get an incredible education in any field you can imagine. If your only priority was to become a doctor, then you should’ve realized that it doesn’t matter where you go to school. In fact, you probably should’ve stayed at your previous “easier” school. If you have what it takes to get into medical school, your MCAT score would have proven it.

Stop acting like Vanderbilt is the cause for all of your problems. Considering how far you’ve come, I’m sure you understand that complaining will not help you in any way. Find something you actually enjoy studying and you’ll realize that studying for it comes much easier. Become good at it and work hard, and try to become the best at whatever it is you’re passionate about. Eventually the money will come. Until then, put your head down and get to work.

Last edited 1 year ago by Reality Check
H
Hannah Hi
1 year ago
Reply to  Reality Check

First of all the phrase “all you care about is socioeconomic mobility” is not the the diss you think it is. Doing what it takes to survive in this capitalist society does not make you a bad person. It’s act all high and mighty about the mentality and sympathy that is needed to go into the medical field when you are attacking someone who is being very honest and sincere about the struggles they went through as a transfer student who comes from a lower economic background.

H
HOD
1 year ago

consider going into consulting

A
ActualVandyStudent
1 year ago

To everyone saying this student isn’t qualified for Vanderbilt, just read their resume on their LinkedIn. In one semester they have already done more here than half the students do in four years. With an average to good GPA considering they’re in pre-med classes. Not that it matters.

M
Med student
1 year ago

Then why the rant?

J
Judah C.
1 year ago

Some of you have never had to genuinely work (while battling countless headwinds) for anything and it really shows. Do better. Good luck Nguyen. Some of us (most I hope) will be fighting with you as much as we can.

A
Alexis
1 year ago

As a former foster youth with no support growing up and a childhood filled with abuse, neglect, sexual assault, molestation, and hunger I can relate to the authors tale personally. However, I cannot accept this victim mentality at all. I was on my own from a young age and knew that the only person who would help me was myself. I was told my whole life I would fail (especially by my teachers) and I barely made it through the K-12 system with a C average. Despite that, I knew I wanted to succeed in life and education was my first step. I recognized that K-12 schools do not prepare you for life and higher education and do not build you up as a person, rather they promote the false notion that everyone should be acknowledged, catered to, and get a trophy. After all, they passed me!
I hadn’t turned 16 yet and was graduating high school the next year with the knowledge that I would soon be homeless, so you know what I did? I joined the military. I worked my tail off and grew as a human being while saving money for college and figuring out how to achieve my lofty goal of going into medicine. When I separated from the service (at the end of my contract and honorably I might add), I too went to a bottom of the barrel university in California because they offered free tuition to veterans. I worked my tail off again and worked 3 jobs to pay bills, have a roof over my head, and feed myself so I could save my Montgomery GI Bill for graduate school.
I too went to Vanderbilt (though not with a scholarship as great as yours, I had to work as a GA to pay my bills) and was initially swept away by how rigorous the courses are, how incredibly knowledgeable the faculty are, and immediately saw the significant gaps in my knowledge that my pre-med program had failed to fill in. You know what I did? I talked to my faculty advisor and he was there for me every step of the way. I read all of the extra study materials he gave me, I worked my head to the bone studying, I barely slept for months on end, and my hair started turning silver from the stress (no joke… I started graying at 28). I didn’t give up. I didn’t blame Vanderbilt or use them as a scapegoat for my shortcomings and lack of preparation. I accepted them as my own fault because I was too poor to afford a better undergrad so I made my situation work by putting in the work I knew I needed to because I refused to fail. I will not be a victim anymore.
Your claim that catching up is an insurmountable feat is infantile and repulsive. You make the rest of us who have struggled through life just to live look like human garbage. I may have graduated with a 3.4 GPA that was a battle to obtain, but my patients still call me Doctor and I damn well know that I earned it!
I am proud that I never gave up. That piece of paper on my wall with Vanderbilt’s name on it is my proof that if I work hard enough, I can do anything. The added bonus is all of the love I receive from my patients every day I work.
I am not a victim. I do not need to be treated differently because of my hardships in life. What I have lived through has made me the person I am today. I will not regret a moment of it because I would stand to lose everything I have gained. I am here now because of my own will, my own power. I am not a victim. My success in life is my revenge on all of those who have wronged me.
I hope one day you will feel the same.

A
Anon
1 year ago
Reply to  Alexis

What about asking for a safety net similar to what well-off, Greek life students have is victim mentality? Just because no one offered you help doesn’t mean that Nguyen shouldn’t ask. Instead of seeing how working 3 jobs just to survive is a problem, you expect this person to do the same? I admire your tenacity and how you were able to persevere despite your circumstances but there is nothing honorable about stressing through your entire school career to the point of graying. The “bootstraps” mentality is nothing but harmful. Nguyen literally spent years as a prostitute just so they could eat and have a roof over their head. Is it wrong for them to hope for reprieve when they’ve made it this far? If Vanderbilt accepted them, shouldn’t they invest in them?? Students come from all different backgrounds and a universities goal should be to help all of them succeed.

A
Alexis
1 year ago
Reply to  Anon

Life doesn’t give you a safety net. You make one for yourself. Had you actually read my full post you would have noted that my faculty advisor supported and guided me to success. I just had to listen and put the work in. As my advisor told me time and again, you will only receive help when you ask for it, no one can read your mind.

The point of sharing my experiences is to illustrate how attitude and subjective perception of reality play a significant role in how we interact within our environment and how we communicate with others.

I made the decisions I did because I perceived them to be most consistent with who I am as a human being. Your definition of honor is clearly different from my own. Your definition of being a victim is clearly different from my own as well. Does that mean that I should alter my life’s course to better fit your view of life? Should you alter yours to suit mine? If your answer wasn’t an immediate “no” then I may as well address my response to an inanimate object.

Anyone who believes pre-medicine or medical school is a reprieve, haven, or other safe harbor free of adversities, stress, sleep deprivation, or other mental hardships is a fool and clearly has no idea how hard it is to actually become a doctor or how stressful your life can be when you’re practicing. Even students from well to do families experience the same hardships academically.

Go walk through a hospice or pediatric in-patient oncology ward and talk to the patients, talk to the doctors, nurses, therapists, medical and non-medical staff, and families. Then come back here and post why you think medical and pre-medical students should be sheltered from hardships.

Vanderbilt trains us to save lives, not to cry about the curricula being too demanding and needing some of the best physicians in the world to change how their teaching to accommodate students feelings.

Our acceptance is their investment. They are not a paper mill, they are one of the best medical schools in the world so we should be the best doctors in the world.

According to another person’s post, Nyugen may have published this to vent. He is surpassing his peers and doing exceptionally well from the sounds of it. It seems as though his struggles are also shaping him into the person he would like to be. It is my hope that he becomes my colleague in the future as our experiences are far more common place than the general public is lead to believe.

The one in control of our destiny is ourself. University is just a tool, and with it we must shape ourselves.

S
Silly
1 year ago
Reply to  Alexis

You’re really so brainwashed it’s so sad!

A
Andrew
1 year ago
Reply to  Alexis

This is an awesome story! Hope it inspires Danny. Thank you for sharing!

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E.P.
1 year ago
Reply to  Alexis

Alexis, congratulations!! Thank you for your service! Your story warmed my heart! Grit, that is what you are made of !

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Anon
1 year ago

Your struggle is very real and you should be incredibly proud of yourself for making it to where you are. However, I am also a Vandy student (now a junior) who used to be pre-med. I come from an upper-middle class family and went to a very rigorous college prep school (although with a weak STEM department) and felt completely overwhelmed at Vanderbilt because I had poor study habits and was very behind compared to my peers. Even coming from a privileged background like mine, many Vandy students still find pre-med to be too much. (I also happened to hate the classes so I changed my major to something I genuinely enjoy.) I agree with some other posters that Vanderbilt does have resources for students who need assistance, but you have to be brave enough and humble enough to ask for it. I wasn’t until it was too late. I felt ashamed that I was failing classes when I had a shining academic record all throughout high school. There is no shame in asking for help and you are under no obligation to disclose your personal struggles to anyone. Vanderbilt has the resources out there, but you have got to advocate for yourself. I strongly encourage you to take that step. When I finally admitted to my professor that I felt lost and incompetent, she was incredibly understanding and helpful. Or just let the stress go and major in something a bit more relaxed! A degree from Vanderbilt *does* mean something, regardless of if it’s in STEM or not.

Side note: I do agree that having some off-the-record summer courses or something along those lines could be very helpful for students who are less than prepared and can help level the playing field.

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Hannah Hi
1 year ago
Reply to  Anon

Summer courses cost money most of the time.

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Nah
1 year ago
Reply to  Hannah Hi

If it’s off-the-record, just show up to the class at your local college or email a professor to ask for materials. Most schools have a policy that anyone can audit classes, the money is for the degree/grade. And let’s not pretend that you can’t just buy the textbook in advance with your commodore card and read it over the summer, or supplement the material with the vast, vast amount of resources online on sites like youtube for absolutely free for premed classes.

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Anonymous
1 year ago

This story has so many layers.

#1- I’m always disheartened to hear the narrative constantly that coming from an underprivileged background equates to poor academic preparation. There are inner city and rural schools with fewer resources with strong academic rigor.

#2- I’ve read through many of the comments and see a slight consensus that it is not the job of a college professor to adjust their instruction style for different learners. I can’t say I disagree– but I wonder who’s job it is. This is often expected and passed down to k12 educators- what makes the request acceptable of them but not of higher-ed professors? There needs to be a revamp to education as a whole as the expectation of educators has stretched far beyond the role of educators.

#3- I wish you the most success in life– that success does not have to be tied to Vanderbilt. I’ve gone Ivy and I’ve gone Public for Undergrad and Grad. You can network without Vanderbilt. You can become a doctor without Vanderbilt. You can get in your career and kick behind without Vanderbilt.

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Hannah Hi
1 year ago
Reply to  Anonymous

As someone who has gone to an underfunded high school I totally disagree with the first point. I took calculus in high school but some how did not know what limits are. Clearly I was unprepared for what calculus was going to be like at Vanderbilt. I did not have AP at my school, I did not have money to get tutors, these things (whether you like to admit it or not matter).

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Anonymous
1 year ago
Reply to  Hannah Hi

Maybe they should not have admitted you if you were so grossly underprepared? /S

They gave you a chance regardless, so now what you do with that opportunity is on you, not them. Think about it this way… They could just increase the importance of standardized test scores in admissions criteria. That could also eliminate the problem.

So you were not prepared? Many students aren’t. Join the club. Now it’s up to you to get prepared. Your education is your responsibility, not anyone else’s.

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Anne
1 year ago
Reply to  Hannah Hi

Calculus wasn’t even offered at my high school! Through discipline and very hard work I was academically successful.

It is quite an achievement even to be accepted to Vanderbilt these days. What you do with that opportunity is, for the most part, your responsibility.

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Anonymous
1 year ago

Many years ago as a Vandy undergrad I served on the A&S Admissions Committee and on the student team that welcomed and helped orient transfer students. I also have a child who attended Vanderbilt as a premed student. From this vantage point, I have several observations: 1) Vanderbilt should do a better job of vetting the qualifications and readiness of incoming students, particularly transfers, and not overly rely on grades from transferring schools; 2) Vanderbilt, and indeed many top universities, has always done a poor job of orienting, advising, and acclimating transfer students–and the pandemic certainly hasn’t helped; 3) Vanderbilt should consider allowing transfers from less academically rigorous institutions start over as incoming Freshman if mutually agreed upon; 4) With literally thousands of well prepared and academically stellar applicants from all strata of society routinely NOT accepted to Vanderbilt each year, it seems crazy and more than a little cruel to accept someone who is not prepared; 5) Having nonetheless accepted you, the University should offer you sufficient resources to be successful–keep asking for them; 6) You may or may not have what it takes to get into medical school and be successful there (hint: it’s a lot harder than Vanderbilt’s organic chemistry and multivariable calculus courses); 7) You don’t need perfect grades to get into medical school–a solid Vandy “B” in the hard courses along with decent MCAT scores well usually suffice, even if it takes a few tries; 8) There are plenty of other paths to happiness and prosperity, as others have noted (nursing for one).

Good luck!

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rslifertc
1 year ago

There are many great universities and for one that didn’t want to be labeled the prostitute student you have certainly displayed details of your hardship. I’m sorry you felt that was your choice to provide for yourself. A lot of us Americans worked min wage jobs to provide finances we needed and worked hard to obtain a degree. And you want special treatment at a prestigous university? We have people getting degrees at a trade school. What is wrong with that? So sorry no sympathy here for your struggles at Vanderbilt. I do however have compassion for anyone .

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C. Nguyen
1 year ago

I just wanted to say that you are incredibly resilient and hard-working. You DESERVE that spot at Vanderbilt and you EARNED it and don’t let anyone else make you feel like less. Thank you for being so brave and sharing your story. Your concerns are absolutely valid. Like yes, you need to put in work to compete and it’s hard to do well in college. But admitting people from disadvantaged backgrounds does place responsibility on the university to provide support–their ranking and graduation rate is on the line too, and it’s not like they’re unaware that first gen/low income students need extra support. Universities, especially the top ones with the most resources, sometimes create communities of those from similar backgrounds, set up faculty mentorship, have designated counselors, etc. Maybe Vanderbilt has some things like that? It likely may take more effort, but I hope you can find more support at Vanderbilt <3

Last edited 1 year ago by C. Nguyen
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Bob
1 year ago

I probably had a worse socio background than Danny. I know I would not be able to pull out Vanderbilt rigor or be accepted, I wish. I went to an average state school in the area but a good STEM major. Worked much at $5/hour while studying. Went to a church and they helped me through my study, gave me free cars twice, lived at that church for free, etc. They were just repeating “You help somebody else when you are in position to do it”. Graduated with low GPA but now make my middle to upper middle class, not a doctor level though. Danny, it is TN!!!, you are probably not familiar how nice people are here, I am not originally from the South either. Never have met so many generous and kind people before. A LOT of people here would be happy to help you, just reach out, continue fighting and you can fulfill your dreams. I am sure Vanderbilt would try to help you too, they want you to succeed.

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Class of 98
1 year ago

Nobody is making you do pre-med.

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Realist
1 year ago

My dad was an immigrant. His kids went to Tenn st university, near Vandy, and got technical degrees in four years and started life. Our kids now are seeking the next step up. Wait in line and enjoy what this country offers. You taking a spot at Vandy didn’t help you or the girl that may have been better prepared. This social engineering is should be placed in K-6 where the root of the problem lay.

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Steve
1 year ago

The societal issue of adequately preparing kids from disadvantaged backgrounds for higher education is complex and troubling. However, Danny makes this issue Vanderbilt’s responsibility in part: in other words, to somehow identify Danny’s struggle early and take steps to help Danny overcome inadequate preparation for a top institution. I don’t see this as Vanderbilt’s responsibility. If we ask professors to “adapt” to different students’ needs, we are really asking them to do a lot more work as they prepare class content (multiple options and text books?) and deal with students (multiple teaching styles?). It’s one thing to find a tutor for a student, but quite another to essentially help a student navigate a class to virtually ensure that he or she will succeed. Simply put, Identifying kids with special learning needs of any type (even if simply from attending sub-par elementary schools) must be done and addressed earlier in life. In Danny’s case, the primary issue is, as a few people have mentioned, the failure to matriculate to a less rigorous institution. It isn’t everyone’s right to attend Vanderbilt. And as difficult as Danny’s life before Vanderbilt apparently was, I lose some sympathy for Danny’s predicament when dramatic words like “shackled” and “headwinds” are used, in some cases repeatedly, and it’s stated that without success at Vandy a life of prostitution will result. Having said that, the one point Danny makes that rings true to me is this: As universities attempt to become more diverse–which can lead them to accept some less-qualified students–they do have an obligation to make sure kids have a good shot at success. “How?” is the big question. Diversity efforts should be a way to help those who have been unfairly rejected become part of the experience–without going to unreasonable lengths to make it work, and in the process cheapening the result.

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Anon
1 year ago

Perfection is incredibly hard to obtain at Vanderbilt regardless of your major. Vanderbilt continues to slap me in the face, and I’m a second semester sophomore. You have an impressive story of tenacity and perseverance, but your story can only take you so far. Vanderbilt demands all of your hard work and intelligence, and even still you’ll probably end up short of your goals. That’s not a unique experience that only you have. I would try and dig deeper, keep pushing on, and reorient/sober your goals. You have every capability to succeed here, but it’s going to take every thing you have. There’s a reason Vanderbilt allows for so much social mobility. Vanderbilt doesn’t ask for everything you have; it demands it.

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PATRICIA
1 year ago

Obviously this student is not VANDERBILT MATERIAL. Many would live to study and succeed at Vanderbilt. And many have hardships and do not come from families with financial means to assist in their child’s education. Many work hard throughout their education to aquire scholarships and other financial aid in a legal manner, to build a foundation of good character and devoted study to meet their goals. Some just don’t succeed at those qualities. It is not Vanderbilt’s responsibility to prepare them for what they needed to do prior to being accepted there. Those who are not Vanderbilt material or need the extra year to accomplish what they are wanting to do need to go the extra mile. Needing one extra year of education for an amazing future is a small price to pay. Dedication to working and saving, grant writing, tutoring or whatever legal means are necessary, is no ones responsibility but the one seeking the education in my opinion. Perhaps somewhere besides Vanderbilt is where you need to start out, with Vanderbilt being the goal during the last couple years of your education. Your choice prior in trying to finance your education is a choice of not good Character. Many struggle and do not stoop to that level as a choice to make money. We all reap what we sow. Perhaps Vanderbilt is not the school you should have reached for, and chose a different route for your education. That’s my opinion. Rather feel good about my hard work to reach my goals, and my choice would have certainly been something legal in obtaining that goal

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Brandon
1 year ago
Reply to  PATRICIA

Legality and character are 2 completely different ideas, and just because you have been privileged enough to act all high and mighty it doesn’t mean that her choices were incorrect. And fuck any notion of “Vanderbilt material.” It’s elitist shit like that that loses great students for institutions.

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Anon
1 year ago
Reply to  Brandon

“Her” choices? Really bold of you to assume that a former sex worker is automatically female. You might want to take a look into the author of this article.

Last edited 1 year ago by Anon
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manonthemoon
1 year ago
Reply to  PATRICIA

Your comment, and many of the comments posted on the subreddit reek of elitism and it’s absolutely disgusting.

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Ben
1 year ago
Reply to  PATRICIA

Patricia, your comment is cruel and un-Christian. Do we not deserve a chance at redemption? Do we not have the right to evaluate our life, change our ways, and seek a better tomorrow? America is built on second chances and hard work. You do Vanderbilt no favors by characterizing it as a place exclusively for those of us who have spent our lives adhering to a strict moral code.

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Diya Sharma
1 year ago
Reply to  PATRICIA

Patricia, I hope you realize that poverty only breeds disadvantages in higher education. Even after the costly college admissions process, poorer students are at a much higher level of disadvantage than wealthier students. While financial aid and potential scholarships can help, there remains a need to work outside jobs to avoid the debts accompanied with loans and afford the indirect costs of college, especially during university breaks. On top of the intense workload that comes with college and the added stressors that come with self-sustaining, poorer individuals also face an immense level of pressure to succeed academically and escape the cycle of poverty. This pressure only rises when combined with being a first-generation college student, which is the case for many lower-class pupils. With this, it is highly likely that mental illnesses like depression and anxiety may develop. In fact, students in poverty demonstrate a higher susceptibility to these conditions, yet cannot always afford the pricey treatments associated with them. 
Whether or not an impoverished student is transparent about his/her struggles should not discount those struggles; claiming a student who has been through financial hardship isn’t “Vanderbilt material” perpetuates this disadvantage. This mindset inevitably breeds mental health issues from the chronic levels of stress faced by being a poor student among a much richer student body. Being constantly surrounded by highly achieved peers, it becomes incredibly easy to feel a sense of estrangement, a phenomenon commonly known as imposter syndrome. Personally, it can be difficult to understand why or how I managed to get into Vanderbilt, especially in conjunction with some of my classmates. A part of me questions whether it was because of my socioeconomic status or some other part of my identity in an attempt to boost diversity. In some cases, this mindset can perpetuate mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. Anxiety might be rooted in the extreme stressors corresponded with juggling academics, socialization, and financial and personal responsibilities of self-sufficiency as well as the fear of failure. Similarly, depression can result from feelings of loneliness and the overwhelming struggle to balance everything while maintaining a certain point of achievement. Even with free university resources, treating these illnesses can be costly, specifically without insurance, causing even more stress on poorer individuals. Although mental health is not exclusive to the lower-class, it is much more prominent among these less fortunate students. In fact, this reality is often overlooked by many wealthier pupils, simply due to inexperience with chronic stress and pressures of beating poverty’s cycle. 

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PATRICIA
1 year ago

Vanderbilt, obviously not prepared student

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Judah C.
1 year ago
Reply to  PATRICIA

What do you think constitutes a prepared student?
Is wanting to learn, trying your hardest, and asking for help not what students are taught?
Is the tenacity and determination to work in not-ideal conditions to further yourself and education not what is valued in America? Because that is what this story is.
Or are you simply scared by the word “prostitute?”
Please tell us what you think ideal is, All-caps Patricia.

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Julie
1 year ago

Hi, letting you know how amazed I am at your tenacity and strength is my first priority, you are willing to do what it takes to better yourself and you will, of that much in sure. With all that you’ve accomplished, at such great cost, I wish you would’ve approached professors and staff with your struggle. You can’t let pride or anything else get in your way !! I pray for your success , please don’t give up.

U
1 year ago

That’s a powerful story. However, I have been in your shoes and my experience is that if you identify faculty specifically and ask for help, almost always they jump in and help. I think in your fear of being vulnerable, you may have missed an opportunity that students us can utilize. You have the opportunity of asking for specific help. The school may help but they cannot bear the burden for every student.It’s your life and your future. Reach out to specific faculty and ask for the help you need. I have never been turned away by any faculty when I needed help.

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Chanel
1 year ago

This article left me speechless. I, too, started my college career from a less than solid platform. When I saw exactly how far behind I was, I elected to change my major to a domain that was better manageable for someone working multiple jobs. First generation strivers have it rough and elite environments full of people who have no idea about the headwinds we suffer are generally non-sympathetic. You are left with shame and alienation, borderline suicidal, with nowhere to turn. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I matured academically in undergrad, talked my way into grad school, and I am now an executive making 6 figures. It gets better.

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Anonymous Vanderbilt Student
1 year ago

I am happy that you have found a higher-quality and safer life at Vanderbilt. The fact you transferred here suggests you knew Vanderbilt would be a big step up in academic rigor from your previous institution. If you find professors unwilling to change their teaching style, I suggest you watch Khan Academy or Organic Chemistry Tutor YouTube videos to fill in fundamental knowledge gaps—at the least, be honest with your professors in a private 1-on-1 meeting you take the initiative to set up, say you had a lackluster educational background, ask what their recommendations are, and do not reveal your previous sex work. 1-on-1 meetings are a professor resource that can rescue you that you should take advantage of. I had a solid high school education, and my STEM-majoring Vanderbilt self still turns to these. Vanderbilt is resource-richer than your article suggests. Secondly, Vanderbilt and MIT are on wholly different levels of academic rigor. Other than Caltech, no other college requires first-years to take exclusively pass/no-record classes. I wish you the best and hope I can call you my future dermatologist—one with whom I can be comforted by knowing he took full advantage of resources available to him, institution-given or free.

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A SEOG Grant recipient
1 year ago

I’m sorry for your difficult past Danny, but it’s not Vanderbilt’s fault that pre-med is too hard for you. Perhaps no one ever warned you that you shouldn’t try to become a doctor for the money; there are many much easier ways to become upper middle class. Most college students who come in Pre med drop pre med for this reason. Vanderbilt’s rigorous curriculum prepares you for the rigors of medical school. It sounds like you were trying to use Vanderbilt’s clout to get ahead, which I totally support. However, it has that clout for a reason. You’re in college now, you can’t keep blaming others for your failings. Plenty of transfer students from other less rigorous programs have been able to catch up with hard work and dedication. Medical school professors aren’t going to adapt their teaching styles because you’re not ready. Simply put, if you can’t keep up at Vanderbilt Pre-Med, you’re not going to keep up in medical school “drinking from the fire hose” as they say.

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Bob Gacek
1 year ago

Individual cases of transfer students succeeding should not undermine systemic issues that transfer students may be facing, this bootstrap mentality is toxic and should be frowned upon.

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Diya Sharma
1 year ago

While going into a profession simply over money is stigmatized, it does not change that this is a factor of many impoverished students’ future career prospects. I have experienced firsthand the pressure to excel at Vanderbilt for the sake of my family, yet others might only feel the need to succeed for themselves. This difference is what affects the majors and professions chosen by the student. Even though as children we are constantly told to follow our dreams, this is only really feasible for students with an already comfortable living situation. For the lower-class student body, the goal is to escape poverty through education. For me, pre-med seemed like the only real choice because of the promise of financial stability while for wealthier individuals, there is a greater sense of freedom in choosing a major of interest or passion regardless of economic prospects beyond university. While I don’t know Danny’s situation, I think for many people in similar statuses money is unfortunately a factor in deciding on the future.

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Tyler Lars
1 year ago

Thank you for sharing your story, Danny. This article has made me more aware of Vanderbilt’s shortcomings and makes me realize how toxic the culture and elitism can be at this institution. It is tremendously important to have discussions about issues like this and we need to value discontent, otherwise no progress is made.

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Lydia
1 year ago
Reply to  Tyler Lars

Oh brother!

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Heidi Riggs
1 year ago
Reply to  Tyler Lars

Thank you for your transparency and honesty. I wish you the very best Danny and know with timing and God you Will Succeed.