Nathaniel Boyd, originally from South Philadelphia, got the most out of his high school experience at Milton Hershey School, a free boarding school for children from low-income families around the country.

Not only was he a key member of the basketball team, he also earned 20 college credits and provided exemplary work in cancer research.

Before the coronavirus sent students home in March for the semester, Boyd worked several days a week as a research lab assistant at Penn State Health’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

He was originally an intern in the program, sponsored by his school, but due to his impressive work, became a paid employee in September.

“Nathaniel has been working on identifying a new way to kill the hardest-to-treat cancers with an emphasis on breast cancer,” said Nancy Lill, an assistant professor in Hershey Medical Center’s department of pharmacology who supervised Boyd. She said he has developed skills far advanced of most high school graduates.

“He has begun to learn to develop experiments with appropriate controls and what that means is that he is through the initial stages of becoming a junior scientist.”

While in high school, Nathaniel Boyd worked in cancer research
Courtesy Milton Hershey School
While in high school, Nathaniel Boyd worked in cancer research

Boyd said working at the hospital was an incredible experience.

“It was definitely a blessing, and [Lill] saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” Boyd said. “She started giving me more things that I thought I couldn’t handle, and once I started to realize that I could step up to the plate, that type of mentality just carried with me different ways into my life.”

In basketball, he is a 6-foot-5 power forward for Hershey who averaged 10.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game for a 23-4 team that had advanced to the PIAA 5-A quarterfinals before the season was canceled due to the pandemic.

“He was just a great role model for our team,” said coach Mark Zerbe. “He worked with our younger players, and he always offered tutoring time and to help them with their homework.”

Boyd plans to take a year off before beginning college. In early September he’ll travel to Costa Rica for 10 months to teach English to children. It’s part of the Global Work & Travel program, and Boyd had to earn accreditation to teach.

“This is being part of something that is bigger than myself,” he said.

After that he will head to college — preferably in California, Boyd said — where he hopes to continue playing basketball. He’ll already have a head start once he gets to college: True to his nature of working above and beyond, Boyd earned 20 college credits by attending classes at Harrisburg Area Community College while in high school.