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So while out at the family ranch for a full weekend of Heather’s graduation coupled with Father’s Day, a bunch of us found ourselves sitting around the bonfire out back on Saturday night. Among us was Nick, the younger brother of Joy’s boyfriend Ryan.

Nick’s the smartest eighteen-year-old you’d ever meet. This year he rolled through the SAT with a perfect score. Think about that one for a second. A perfect SAT.

Nick and Ryan have Bolivian roots. With that heritage, Nick’s found himself ranked NUMBER ONE IN THE NATION in intelligence for Latino high school graduates in 2007. Number one. He’s on his way to Duke with a full ride, followed by a six-week stint at Oxford next summer to study Molecular Biology.

Not surprisingly, Nick was valedictorian of his class, and delivered a speech on Saturday that I missed. While sitting around the bonfire, I asked him to share his speech with us. He graciously did, though not verbatim.

While the actual speech weighed in at about seven minutes, Nick expounded on it for us, and we all ended up going off on tangents that evolved into hours of thought-provoking conversation.

The topic of his speech was legacies. Nick directed the speech to three distinct groups of people in the audience: students, parents, and teachers. From what I remember, the points Nick made were this. (I do not quote.)

There are three types of legacies we can leave as humans:

1. Physical
2. Biological
3. Cultural

The physical legacy is purely that. Physical. As physical organisms, we give off heat, which, through nature, leaves a lasting effect on the universe. (I know. It was news to me too.)

The biological legacy is parenthood. Procreation. Leaving offspring behind after you turn to dust.

The cultural legacy is the true legacy that makes mankind different than other organisms. Cultural legacies include ideas, creativity, technology, and other lasting things that affect the world long after the creator is dust. Arts and sciences fall into the cultural legacy.

Nick pointed out that mere existence already qualifies a person as a leaver of a physical legacy. He then proceeded to address each group in the audience, starting with the parents, pointing out how they’re witnessing their biological legacy graduate from high school. He then addressed the teachers, who may or may not be parents, and pointed out how they’ve channeled their efforts into leaving a cultural legacy through teaching. He also encouraged them to take teaching to a new level, beyond the mere mechanics of instilling scholastic knowledge in students, and to strive to teach larger life lessons through a proactive sharing of their own personal experiences.

He then tied it all together by addressing his fellow students, pointing out that they’re all going to leave a physical legacy. Whether or not they leave a biological legacy, he invited them to join him in a quest to leave a cultural legacy.

The speech pretty much wrapped there. Around the bonfire, Nick shared some open-ended thoughts that he didn’t have time for in his speech. Namely:

  • What’s the stronger human urge: leaving a biological legacy, or leaving a cultural legacy?
  • Is it necessary to leave a cultural legacy? There are many (most?) people in this world who’d argue that it isn’t.
  • For his first post-speech thought, he compared the r-strategists and K-strategists. In ecology and r/K selection theory, r-strategists are organisms that have the natural urge to procreate as much as possible in order to survive. Organisms that fall into the r-selection category would be ants, weeds, and bacteria. Conversely, the K-strategist organisms have the natural ability to compete successfully for resources with others, and reproduction is therefore less crucial to them than it is to the r-strategists. Organisms in the K-selection category include elephants, whales, and humans. So the implication is that leaving a cultural legacy is the stronger human urge, or, at least, it’s stronger than that of the r-strategists.

    Yet thinking it through, the question still remains up in the air, doesn’t it? I mean, on a slow creative day, try comparing the number of ideas in your head to your sperm count and do the math. The answer becomes especially clear during times of writer’s block. But then a light bulb goes off hitting you with that 3 A.M. epiphany, and, well, we’re back to square one.

    For his second post-speech thought, it seems that we’d probably need to more clearly define what a cultural legacy is. One example Nick brought up was the idea of a plain blue collar auto mechanic. While, on the surface, it may seem that this grease monkey isn’t changing the world with is ideas, consider this:

    Say the mechanic was a good guy, who valued friendships and empathized with people. For many years he’s been friends with a poor man, who’s been raising his daughter as a single father. The mechanic has serviced the poor man’s cars for years, always cutting him good deals, saving him thousands of dollars over the years. With this money saved, the poor man was able to afford to send his daughter to college.

    So you see, as Nick suggests, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or an Einstein or a Picasso to leave a cultural legacy.

    Good stuff.

    Legacies. I’m genuinely excited to see what sort of cultural legacy Nick is going to leave. Seriously, if anybody’s going to stumble across a cure for cancer or HIV, it’s gonna be Nicholas Altemose, or someone very much like him.

    Go get ’em, brother!

    1 comment… add one
    • Joy June 19, 2007, 10:14 am

      Yes, the speech was awesome. While the other speakers touched on vague cliches about all of the students leaving and going on to do great things, Nick spoke on the subject of legacies that touched everyone there. Coming from such an impressive genius, he emphasized that character and morals were the most important traits we can leave with. Good job Nick! We love you

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