School was never really Nick Beeson's thing. It was often hard to find the motivation to do his work, he said. This manifested in another form his senior year at Palo Alto High School. Surrounded by peers talking about their post-graduation prospects and the college application process, he found it hard to find the motivation to apply.
"I wasn't that excited about college," Beeson said.
But outside of the classroom, through community service, he has found his drive. He volunteers once a week with middle school students through a faith-based service program called WildLyfe. The program is part of Palo Alto Young Life, a non-denominational Christian ministry that aims to connect with adolescents through volunteering, clubs and camps.
When Beeson brought up how he was feeling to his counselor and teacher adviser, they suggested he look at options for continuing his service while taking a gap year. So starting in September, Beeson will be working in Philadelphia through Mission Year, a year-long Christian-based ministry program focused on providing community service in inner-city neighborhoods. Mission Year participants, all young adults, are connected with a local partner agency, with whom they'll spend 32 hours a week volunteering. The rest of the time, they'll all live in a house together, much like a dorm.
"I think that was the coolest thing -- to give back but also have a home that will hold you up when you're down," Beeson said. "I really like the idea of how (it's) faith-based, but it's not trying to go out and teach the word, teach the Bible; it's just doing work, volunteering."
Beeson, now a graduating senior who has lived in Palo Alto his entire life, came up through the Palo Alto Unified School District. He went to Escondido Elementary School, Terman Middle School and then Paly. He lives on the Stanford University campus with his mother, who is the university's assistant dean for graduate life. He said his family was supportive of his decision to take a gap year, and he wishes other parents would do the same for peers who, like him, might not feel enthusiastic about going straight to college or don't know what they want to do with their lives.
"I have people come up to me, even seniors who are going off to school, and they're like, 'I wish I could take a gap year,' and I'm like, 'Well, you can.' They say, 'My parents won't let me.'
"I think that's kind of a shame if kids feel like their parents wouldn't let them do that. ... Why go to school now when you can go experience the world a little bit and figure things out?"
Though he likes Mission Year because it's not too heavy-handed when it comes to faith, Beeson said he started to lean on his faith during high school. It helped him through hard times with his family and a difficult decision to quit football despite being a starting varsity player his sophomore year. He also played baseball and said football wasn't where his passion was. The social repercussions of that decision were difficult, he said, with other students -- both friends and strangers -- coming up to him at school, questioning his decision.
Sophomore year was also when he started volunteering with WildLyfe. He also attends a weekly youth group, where he and other high schoolers hang out, take trips together and talk about spirituality.
He's not sure what will come after Mission Year, though he does have the option of going to Azuza Pacific University, a private Christian college near Los Angeles. It was the only school he applied to. He's deferred for a year but is thinking he might want to look at other schools, travel or continue his involvement with Young Life. (He's also continuing that this summer -- in July, he'll be in Canada working as a staff member at a Young Life summer camp.)
When people ask him what he's doing after graduation, Beeson said he's fine saying that he's taking a gap year. He admitted it felt a little weird on college day, when most Paly students came to school wearing a sweatshirt or shirt from the college to which they've committed.
"But I'm excited," he said. "It's something different."
If you could give one piece of advice to your freshman-year self, what would it be?
"To get my schoolwork done. ... Focusing on school is important." --Nick Beeson