By ANDRÉ BLACKMAN
There I was, my 10th-grade science fair. My mother made sure I had a tie that fit properly and a shirt that was perfectly pressed. I stood among my peers with our cardboard presentation displays highlighting what we did to make it to this point. I was a little nervous but also extremely proud of myself and excited to see the looks on the judge’s faces when they saw what my project was about:
“The Effects of Enzymes on DNA”
Boom. Oh, I wasn’t doing something that many people had seen already — I was working inside an NIH facility with a brilliant scientist mentor/coach, to get this done. The memories of taking multiple modes of transportation after school throughout the week for what seemed like forever wore me down enough to make sure that I knew this was going to be worth it. And then after the judges were introduced to all of our concepts and families poured throughout the gymnasium to see what we all came up with — now was the moment of truth.
Sweaty palms and teenage anxiety wouldn’t deter me. First place goes to….oh ok, yeah of course, they deserved that. They worked really hard I’m sure. Second place goes to….oh wow, I didn’t make second place? At least, I’ll get something. After a third place winner was announced and the applause faded. I looked, stunned, over at my mother in the audience whose face was covered in tears. I was ready for the night to be over. Did I not wear the right tie? Did I seem too confident? Not confident enough? The questions would consume me until later that evening when my science teacher told me that the judges thought I cheated or didn’t actually do any of the work.