East Lyme senior represents community by being kind, expressing himself

East Lyme senior Nate Spada is seen Wednesday, May 18, 2016, at McCook Beach in Niantic.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
East Lyme senior Nate Spada is seen Wednesday, May 18, 2016, at McCook Beach in Niantic. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

East Lyme — Senior Nate Spada is leaving behind his four years at East Lyme High School having made his friends laugh — and having stood up for what he believes in.

"I use humor with my friends, but when it comes to people I don't know or people that are having a hard time, I try to be kind to them, especially if I can connect with them and understand them," said Spada, 17.

Spada recently earned the title of "Mr. East Lyme," after winning a humorous competition during the "East Lyme Spectacular" for who can best represent the school.

He was told that audience members were laughing so hard, they were in tears during his performance, which included an interpretive nature dance and Spada's acting as a lunch lady, called "Mr. Lunch," while his girlfriend dressed up as a hot dog and poured sugar on him.

Spada said he represents his community "by being a kind-hearted individual who isn't afraid of being myself."

Spada is the director of social media for Best Buddies, a club at the high school which builds one-to-one friendships with people with physical and developmental disabilities.

Spada got involved in the club during his freshman year at the encouragement of his older sister, Danielle.

He thought it was a good idea because he wanted to know the friends of his brother, Anthony, who is autistic.

He said he hears every day people using derogatory terms to talk about individuals with special needs and "to see them in an environment where they feel accepted is heartwarming."

Over the years, Spada has seen friendships blossom. 

He also said he will step in if someone is being treated unfairly. 

When a student, whom he thought had a disability, was getting bullied on the bus, Spada told the other students to stop.

Spada plays for the East Lyme Youth Basketball League and for the Unified Basketball League and participates in Peers Reaching Out, a club that helps students as they enter the high school, provides tours to eighth-graders and freshmen, and plans events.

Spada said that he is academically driven — he has a 4.0 GPA (4.3 weighted) and earned academic awards, including seven in his sophomore year —  but he also learned over the course of his high school experience to make time for social and extracurricular activities.

During his time at the high school, he overcame a major obstacle when his house burned down right before final exams during his sophomore year.

His teachers told Spada, an A student, that he didn't have to take his finals, but Spada said he didn't want to be treated differently from anyone else.

He retrieved his notecards from his soot-covered room and used a mask from his mother's nursing bag to study them in the hotel where his family was staying.

He ended up acing the exams.

"I learned that I'm a very determined person," he said.

The experience also taught him about his school and community.

After the fire, he was sitting by himself at a table when a classmate, whom he didn't know too well, asked him how he was doing.

That became the theme not only for that week, but for the whole summer, he said.

Donations for his family also poured in.

“I feel like we're a very well-knit community, because when one thing in a system falls, then it's up to the rest of the community to bring it back up,” he said.

Spada, who currently participates in a program with Project Oceanology, plans to study marine biology at the University of New Hampshire. 

He said he hopes to have a career researching different ecosystems — and maybe even exploring the deep seas.

Brad Normand, Nate's physics teacher, said Nate has a great work ethic and is bright, personable and funny.

"Nate is a smart and talented individual who is endlessly entertaining," he said in an email. "Whether he is hosting East Lyme's Holiday Extravaganza from the stage or just drawing walruses randomly on the board, people appreciate his witty sense of humor."

School Counselor Nadine Barnes said by email that "Nate is not only an excellent student but someone who always looks on the bright side of life."

She said he is humorous and "always looks out for others and pushes those he cares about to better themselves as well."

Spada, who has a brother, a sister and two half-sisters, said his parents encouraged him to express himself.

His mother, Antoinette Spada, said Nate is funny and loyal.

She said he always made sure his brother got to the bus stop and included him in parties. 

“He's an advocate for Anthony, and he always has been,” she said.

She expects the whole of East Lyme High School will end up at the big graduation party the family is planning for Nate at their house.

“He gets along with everybody,” she said. “He's just the kind of kid you want to hang around because he's got a good nature.”

k.drelich@theday.com 

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