I was a freshman doing my Global Studies homework after school and there was this stranger whom I had just met who helped me. He was a junior who was a few inches taller than my height of five feet, had a mole on his left cheek and another one, slightly lower, on the right cheek. He sported dark brown shaggy hair that very much looked like Justin Bieber’s. That was my first encounter with Nathan Palma. It did not take long for me to appreciate his kindness and sincerity, his generosity and selflessness, his innate intelligence and uncanny sense of humor. His friends describe him in so many different ways but they are one in praising him as a person who would always put others before himself and one who never failed to make them smile. I became one of many who had the privilege of meeting Nathan Palma. And meeting him, getting to know him, has changed my life.
“He was someone who could light up the room, just being there. He was there when you needed him, he always made me laugh, and he always made sure his friends were okay even when he wasn’t,” said senior and best friend, Robert Chin.
Later that year, he had his shot at fame by showing the school in a cultural assembly his freestyle by replacing the rap part to Justin Bieber’s song, “Baby.” Because of that, the student body knew who he was and began calling him the “Filipino Justin Bieber.” It wasn’t until almost a year later when I found out that he actually didn’t like being called that nickname. But being the kind person that he was, he never bothered trying to stop people from calling him that because he knew it made them happy.
With his mom, dad, brother, sisters, girlfriend, and friends surrounding his hospital bed, senior Nathan Palma passed away at Children’s Memorial Hospital in the dawn of Thursday, October 20, after battling pulmonary hypertension.
According to Nathan’s father, Noel Palma, “Nathan’s heart filled with water, along with both lungs due to pressure or hypertension on the lungs. On that dreadful day, his organs started to fail one by one until eventually, the machines and medications could no longer sustain his life.”
Students and teachers at Niles West say they will remember Nathan for his positive outlook on life.
“What set Nathan apart was the fact that despite his challenges, he never complained and never asked for special consideration. Frankly, many adolescents complain about matters far less significant and expect special concessions when faced with challenges far less severe than those that confronted Nathan. I will always remember his 100-watt smile, his polite nature, and his uncomplaining demeanor. [He] did not let his health issues restrict his living life to its fullest. He had a much-too-brief life, but he left a larger-than-life impression on all who knew him. His life was short, but he maximized his experience in this realm,” said English teacher Michael Conroy.
It was at the age of 10 when Nathan was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and it later induced him to have lupus and diseases that can cause inflammatory response to the immune system. He missed a lot of school as he was in and out of the hospital. While going through all this, he spent a lot of time with a Rubik’s cube.
“He’s really into old-school stuff, he really knew how to make me feel special. I love his perceptive of life. I could write a whole book about all the things that I love about him, but he’s so amazing at solving a Rubik’s cube,” said sophomore and girlfriend Cheska Cabanlit.
Recently, his older brother, Patrick Palma, got a tattoo of a Rubik’s cube on his shoulder in Nathan’s honor.
“It was always out on his desk in class and sometimes the kids would pass it around. I can’t tell you how many times I had to ask him to put it away. It wasn’t a big deal, it just distracted some of the other kids. But I will forever remember it because when I went to the wake, there it was, sitting on a pedestal beside the coffin. When I saw it, I cried. It brought back a whole flood of memories and as a teacher, you realize that it’s the small things we remember. These small little interactions that we have with our students each and every day. We definitely remember those,” said Nathan’s math teacher for two years, Lynne Rauser.
He had friends from all grades in the school. He was trying to live the life of a normal teenager.
In one of his Facebook conversations with his girlfriend Palma mentions, “I go for that whole preppy meets hobo meets skater/ jock look.”
Nathan was in Filipino Club , Dance Marathon, and worked in the book store. Even though he easily got tired, he played ultimate Frisbee and basketball at the park with his friends. He likes tigers. Though he had a hearty appetite and ate a lot, hated eggs (except for Robert’s omelets). He loved Hershey’s Cookies and Cream candy bars and always ordered the Green Tea Frappucinos from Starbucks. His favorite color was cerulean because of the Cerulean City from his favorite anime, Pokemon. He sang and played guitar. He played a lot of video games. He got an A+ on an essay he wrote in 10 minutes on his phone while one of his friends spent a whole night on it and only got a B. He refused to shave his mustache because he said it made him look manlier.
“I didn’t get the privilege of knowing Nathan since 4th grade like most people, but I’m still thankful he became part of my life at all, thinking back at the times I always remember the boy who sits behind me at church and makes me laugh, the boy who steals my food both in the cafeteria and McDonalds, the boy with the Green Tea Frapps, and the boy who made my friends and I so happy. He’s a unique kid that you can’t forget or hate,” said sophomore Francesca Morales
“Nathan was a really good guy. He had this thing about him where, like you had all these problems and then Nathan would call you stupid, and then you’d kind of get a little angry with him, but then you’d realize these problems were so, so minor, and that’s what I loved about him, because no matter what I was going through, he would always be able to, you know, bring me out of this state I’m in. And that’s what I think I’ll miss that about him the most. He could always make anyone smile. No one could virtually hate him. He was just a really great guy,” said senior JamBi Evangelista.
According to Cabanlit, “He had a pet dog named Max who he had since he was born and they both died the same year which is super ironic.”
Knowing Nathan, receiving his kindness and generosity, witnessing his altruism and courage, was a privilege, a gift to so many of us. This is Nathan’s personality, his life which he so selflessly shared with all of us. This is Nathan Palma’s present to us whose lives he has touched and changed in the most profound way.
His favorite quote was perhaps one of the reasons why he lived and shared with us a full, meaningful life.
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present,” Nathan Palma, (1994-2011).
Video created by reader Rachel Dimayuga