Graduation Spotlight: Nathan Lu

Austin Community College District (ACC) celebrates a record number of graduates at its spring 2022 commencement ceremony. More than 3,340 students are invited to participate Friday, May 13, at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park.

One of those students is Nathan Lu. Nathan is this year’s recipient of the ACC’s Chancellor Student Achievement Award. Here is Nathan’s journey.

Written by: Nathan Lu

I stared out the car window, taking deep breaths to try and stop the frantic beating of my heart. The familiar feelings of intimidation and anxiety washed over me in waves. It was my first-day attending college, and since I was only 13 years old, I didn't know what to expect. As I walked to my first class, I noticed people staring and taking pictures of me and my enormous backpack. When I finally got home that night, I called my youth pastor to tell him everything that had happened. He reminded me that I wasn't meant to fit in but rather to stand out. I felt an odd sense of determination to keep going, even though I would always be the youngest person in the class. 


Throughout the semesters that followed, I immersed myself in learning everything I could, from physics to calculus, and finally, programming. My first computer science class taught me that my age didn't matter in programming; coding enabled me to build anything I could imagine, from simple web pages to complex machine learning models to predict stock prices. I began creating personal projects, organizing after-class study groups, and teaching friends to code. School wasn't about my grades; it was about learning new things to share with others. I went from Calculus 1 to Linear Algebra in a year, studied how computers executed code, and experimented with drone cartography, a process in which multiple photos are stitched together to make a huge map. I felt like a sponge, and while I still took my high school courses, my primary concentration was soaking up information everywhere I could.

One night, exhausted from juggling a full-time college and high school course load, I stared blankly at the never-ending list of errors generated by my most recent computer program. I knew that if I didn't meet individuals who shared my goals of impacting the world through software, I would burn out attempting to do everything independently. I couldn't help but wonder if other students were experiencing similar problems.

A week later, I started the Computer Science Club at Austin Community College, where students could socialize, collaborate on projects, get homework help, and learn from guest speakers. For the first time, I shared my passion for coding and experienced the direct impact of leadership by creating an environment of over 230 students to have a safe place to learn from each other and share their challenges. I was even appointed as co-chair of Honors in Action, a committee dedicated to raising cybersecurity awareness among parents.

I had never taken a step back and considered what I had accomplished since beginning my college studies. I was developing not only as a leader but also as a person. Questions that I used to have had become chances to teach others. My goal was never to graduate early or become a "child prodigy," but rather to learn the inner workings of the technology around us. Whenever I felt like I was the odd one out, my mentor's comments returned to me, reminding me that being different was my strength.

During my final year at Austin Community College, I tried every opportunity that came my way, from student journalism to holding workshops for students who were still learning computer science fundamentals. I learned about data modeling, machine learning, and application development and used those talents in numerous coding competitions and hackathons. When I finally earned two associate degrees, I realized that the degrees were merely paper, but the knowledge I had gained would last me forever. My journey through the educational system has shown me that regardless of my age, I can make a difference in the world around me.