One of San Diego Unified's top one percent graduates, here is the speech given by Nathaniel Nocum of Morse High at the Salute to Excellence event on May 20. Nathaniel is graduating Monday, June 15.
Salute to Excellence Speech
Morse High School
May 20, 2009
Good afternoon. My name is Nathaniel Nocum and I’d like to thank you all for being here.
Throughout my life, I’ve faced damaging thoughts time and time again. I’ve felt the panic that may arise with any challenge. I’ve felt the frustration at not comprehending something I probably should. And I’ve felt the discouragement at seeing my colleagues understand things with greater clarity than I. In life, we will face disappointment if we look at everything with such negativity. Rather, we should view it all as a necessary process to realize our potential.
In my sophomore year, I joined my school’s volleyball team. For those of you who aren’t aware of its greatness as a sport, take my word for it. It was difficult; it was tiring; it was a new experience for me. During my first game, I had trouble hitting the ball over the net and keeping the ball inside the court. That was embarrassing. I could have stopped; I could have quit. But I didn’t. I kept going, pushing such thoughts away, because I knew that each attempt was another step towards success, and sure enough it was.
I never would have thought that it would have made such an impact in my life, and yet, it has. I didn’t care much for people then, and truthfully, nor did I care much for anything else; I was very unfocused. I was racked with doubt and insecurity, confusion about who I was and what I wanted in life. Volleyball changed all that. No longer was I so isolated, no longer did I shun myself from others. I had goals and I had ambitions that I worked towards with a sort of passion of which I never knew I was capable. I strove not to be the best, but my best. I learned to live not in the past with my mistakes, but in the present with a drive for the future. On the court, the only things allowed are confidence, faith, and determination. Confidence in ourselves, faith in each other, and the will to keep pushing through. I am different now, because of that. Life is like magic. Magic is wanting something and letting yourself have it. If anything, volleyball has taught me to be a magician.
Sometimes, however, the magic is chaotic. Moreover, it is then that we need someone to guide us as we grow, as we mature; someone who knows us so well as to calm the confusion of our lives. For me, they are my parents. They have given me the fundamental building blocks through which all my strengths and achievements have been built. They have inspired me to do well, to be my best, and I believe that their effect on me is obvious, if not commanding in my character. My parents have always worked hard to provide for my siblings and me, often putting themselves last against our well-being and happiness. They take time out of their day to take care of us, to spend time with us. They don’t even play favorites. All of that for us, doing all the things great moms and dads do. How blessed I am, to have such amazing parents, and I hope that someday, I will be able to emulate them.
In the fall, I will be attending Muir College at UCSD and am to major in Cognitive Science. Briefly, it is the study of the nature of different mental tasks and what the brain does in order to perform them. I’m planning on becoming either a psychologist or physician. Though, admittedly, I’m leaning towards physician, the reason being, I feel I can help more people that way. I’m not too sure where this road may lead, but I do know that science is something I’ve always been good at. And science that helps people in their everyday lives is something I’d like to pursue.
Lastly, the advice I’d like to give my fellow colleagues is this. Studying is important, yes. But we study so that in the long run we can be happy and so that we may pursue our passions. Remember that and don’t kill yourself for your grades. Take time out of your day or week to relax, play a sport, and to help out in the community. Every Monday I volunteer in the Friday Night Live Mentoring program to help promote a drug-free lifestyle at the local middle school. I also participate in my school’s Key Club, and I volunteer at various organization events, such as the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair. It is a great feeling to know that I make a difference. I doubt anything feels better than helping yourself and helping others. Thank you.