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Inspirational Tuesday: Speak Out

May 18, 2010

Photo credit: Steve McConnell

Josh Biddle is this year’s University Medal winner at the University of California, Berkeley. He won it for academic achievement, distinction in public service and other qualities of judgment, ingenuity and initiative. Josh made history, being the first community college transfer student to win the medal in its 139-year history.

At 28 years old, Josh has taken an unlikely path to where he is now, graduating with a bachelors in integrative biology.

He started out at San Rafael High School, where he constantly fought with personal problems. Then Josh went to the University of Wisconsin thinking he could run away from his confusion, only to soon drop out after just one semester. When he came back home, he enrolled at the College of Marin, but found his past problems waiting for him.

Josh ultimately made the tough choice to enroll in a therapeutic boarding program at the AIM House  in Boulder, Colorado. He turned his life around there, with the help of counselor Bill Sell.

After leaving AIM, he stayed in Colorado to help his now 100-year-old great aunt Velma Biddle work the family farmland. With “wide open days and wide open skies,” Josh started to get perspective and thought about where he’d been and what he wanted to do next.

Josh eventually found his way back to education at City College of San Francisco, where he excelled in the sciences. Before he was finally admitted to Berkeley in 2008, he was rejected twice.

While a UC Berkeley student, Josh has volunteered at San Quentin State Prison, the health clinic at Glide Memorial Church, and San Francisco General Hospital. In addition, he has also worked at Berkeley and UCSF conducting research on cancer and genetics.

Josh will use the $2,500 scholarship that comes with the award to help pay his way to Kenya, where he will do clinical outreach on behalf of the Ray of Hope Foundation. After the summer, he plans to continue his studies in medical school at UC San Francisco.

Josh has learned a lot in his life thus far. “I still struggle, but I feel so much better as a person than I did ten years ago,” he said. “Graduating from UC Berkeley and getting into medical school is the first definitive goal that I projected into the future and then accomplished. And it feels good.”

I was there for his powerful speech at UC Berkeley’s general commencement last Sunday. He told the tale of his life and focused on the idea of finding oneself. Josh urged students to “speak out,” and stop being an observer and start being a participant. At the end, he recited a poem about all the reasons we should speak out.

“Speak out for any of those reasons
But really
Speak out for me
Because I’m selfish
And I just want to hear what you have to say.”

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