Nick Beeson: The volunteer


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

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7 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 4, 2015 at 2:07 am

Nick - good for you! We are both Escondido (when it was a K-6 program) and Terman (when it was a 7-9 program) alumnus. I too lived on campus and taught there, too. Am a Stanford Indian but that's another story. U have the rest of your life to work. Good for you to take a year and reflect, discover, and consider your options. Remember this: real happiness only comes from within (you likely already know this given your Christian experience as noted by the insight of my kingdom is within each one of you). My point: find your passion, not a career. Do what you really love and your life journey will be so much calmer and fulfilling. Don't die from stress by your mid-50s. Don't worry about the housing cost thing - we live in a broken model; I believe we will have reforms in place by the time you come of age to purchase far more affordable housing; one of the many positive changes for your generation Z. Keep your options open and realize it's ok to reinvent yourself every so many years or find that one retirement gig that may not pay as much but is consistent and more importantly, personally rewarding. All the best!

7 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Mutz
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 4, 2015 at 10:28 am

Nick is an amazing young man. Not only did he volunteer with WildLyfe, he also volunteered coaching baseball for Palo Alto Little League. Our Majors team was grateful to have Nick working with our players. He was a wonderful role model and the boys had great fun with him. We wish you all the best Nick!

7 people like this
Posted by vini
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 4, 2015 at 10:35 am

I am a strong proponent of GAP year. GAP- Grows And Prepares you in so many different ways. All kids should get a GAP year after the pace and intensity of their high school years-especially in the bay area where they compete against selves,peers , siblings and the whole community. You should be able to think well -reflect what you loved- and didn't love. Please do travel-not necessarily to some exotic remote place but any where , outside Palo Alto and on your own to discover what clicks. Good Luck.

6 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 4, 2015 at 10:37 am

Congratulations Nick and well done on being so honest and public about your decisions for the future. We definitely need more young people like you speaking out about taking a different route after high school.

6 people like this
Posted by Gap year parents
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 4, 2015 at 12:37 pm

Congrats on graduating and your decision to take a gap year! We encouraged our sons to do this after Paly and they agree, it was the best decision ever. Many PA parents do not understand the incredible benefits it offers to our teens (restorative, explorative, maturing, contributing opportunities) and you have to do what feels right to you. College can wait, and it will be a better, more successful experience after a gap year (that's been proven by many). You should be very proud of yourself.

6 people like this
Posted by paly parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 4, 2015 at 3:45 pm

Congrats to Nick for making a great choice! I hope you have a wonderful experience.

And to the parents who "won't allow" their kids to take a gap year, you would be amazed at how many kids end up taking one in the middle of college because they were either burnt out by PAUSD or just not ready for college!

9 people like this
Posted by Let'em Do It
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 4, 2015 at 5:05 pm

If you don't let them take a gap year--and explore the outside world--they may take SEVERAL years off-- or never return to college. Or, even worse, become a burned out, irresponsible--albeit well-educated-- shiftless adult in search of a lost childhood.

We see A LOT of PAUSD grads who turn out this way.

3 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 4, 2015 at 5:15 pm

... and I'm proud to be one of them. ;)

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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