Man wins UC Berkeley top award after long journey

May 14, 2010 6:43:26 PM PDT
The University of California at Berkeley's top honor for undergraduates is going to a North Bay man this year. His achievement is all the more remarkable for how unlikely it seemed just several years ago.

Josh Biddle, 28, is this year's University Medal winner; an award given not only for academic achievement, his GPA is 4.0, but also for distinction in public service and other qualities of judgment, ingenuity and initiative.

Before getting in to Berkeley in 2008, he was rejected twice.

He will be the first community college transfer to win the medal in its 139-year history.

"That's my favorite part about it, is that I get to represent some students that maybe took a non-traditional path through school or weren't always exactly sure what they wanted to do with their life," Biddle said.

It is hard to imagine that 10 years ago, Biddle was a troubled teenager. He started out in private school in Marin. As a sophomore, he chose San Rafael High School, where things began to unravel; pot and alcohol became a problem.

He did one semester at the University of Wisconsin, came home and took classes at College of Marin, until his parents stepped in with an ultimatum.

"They gave me a choice; I could either get help in some way, or try to make it on my own," Biddle said.

He chose help at AIM, a 12-step program for young people in Boulder, Colorado. He credits Bill Sell, a counselor there, with turning him around.

And Biddle also had his now 100-year-old great aunt Velma Biddle. After two years at AIM, he went to live with her and work the farmland she once owned in Colorado.

"I think I started to get perspective when I moved in with Velma with wide open days and wide open skies to think about where I'd been and what I wanted to do next," Biddle said.

Velma always knew Biddle would be OK.

"You could see that there was something special there," she said.

Josh found his calling in the sciences at City College of San Francisco, where he excelled.

He has volunteered at San Quentin State Prison, Glide Memorial Church and San Francisco General Hospital. He decided to continue his studies in medicine.

"I'm really excited to learn, just learn as much as I can," Biddle said.

Biddle graduates Sunday with a bachelors in integrated biology and begins medical school at UCSF this fall.


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