When Josh Nickings had to decide where to go to high school, he ultimately chose Eastside College Preparatory School, in part, because it would give him a chance to live on campus.
The nonprofit, tuition-free East Palo Alto school, which aims to open new doors for students historically underrepresented in higher education, is one of the few in the area with dorms. Nickings, 18, a Palo Alto native who graduated from the school on May 27, wanted to gain independence and also liked the school's diversity and tight-knit feel.
His sophomore year, he fondly remembers meeting his best friend David at a barbecue.
"I was so shy sitting by myself and he reached out and asked if wanted to play Frisbee," he said. "It got me out of my shell for the first time. … It's cool to compare myself as a ninth grader to now. I'm more confident and outspoken while still shy and reserved but can more easily open up to people."
By spring of his sophomore year, Nickings switched to distance learning along with other students and moved back home. Like most, he thought the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020 would just last a couple of weeks, not knowing it would extend for another school year.
"It was rocky throughout," he said. He did find community through a Discord group he joined through a friend. He missed the structure of his life in the dorms and was hopeful he'd be back on campus soon, and was able to return to the dorms during his senior year.
Nickings said graduating from Eastside feels bittersweet. He enjoyed being part of the school's computer refurbishing club, playing volleyball, tutoring students in calculus and doing graphic design work (stickers and gear) for the school.
He plans to attend Northwestern University outside of Chicago in the fall where he will major in mechanical engineering and graphic design. He's excited for a change in weather and to experience life in a city.
"I'm also really nervous," he said. "It won't be a space quite like Eastside — how diverse and tight knit (it is). I overall feel prepared to move."
Find the rest of our graduation coverage in "Celebrating the class of 2022: A roundup of stories, graduate lists, photos"