Those who know Nicholas Carpenedo might be surprised to learn that the class of 2022 San Benito High School valedictorian embraces the concept of failure.
Which begs the question: what does a person who tallied a 4.8 GPA in his last semester of high school know about failure? Apparently, a lot. As the goalie for the Haybalers boys water polo team, which struggled mightily with a lack of numbers during his Covid-shortened junior season, Carpenedo had to watch countless shots fly past him, sometimes 20 or more for a single match.
Even though most of the goals allowed weren’t his fault, it’s hard for a player of Carpenedo’s caliber not to feel the brunt of the responsibility.
“It was definitely a good learning experience in terms of dealing with failure,” said Carpenedo, who will attend UC Berkeley (Cal). “It’s kind of why I like the goalie position. At the end of the day, it’s you in the cage and it’s hard not to blame yourself when goals are flying past you left and right. We were way outmatched and some of the games the scores were like 30-2. It’s hard not to let it get to you.”
Like most high achievers, Carpenedo knows an experience is only failure if you don’t learn from it. Not only did Carpenedo persevere through playing goalie, he learned plenty about himself and was better off for being able to play on the water polo team, struggles notwithstanding.
“We had a terrible season over Covid,” he said. “Coach (Brendan) Sigourney couldn’t coach us that season and there were a bunch of random circumstances that made it tough. We had to be out of the pool by 7am every morning and for a week the water heater broke. That was terrible. So coming back this last year, practicing in the sunshine, was amazing. … In terms of reward, there’s definitely something you get out of sports you can’t get out of academics, especially the teamwork and how everyone has their own role within the team. It was really fun just being able to interact with all my teammates.”
Carpenedo counts his time as the captain of the school’s robotics team and what it accomplished in his freshman year as one of his most fulfilling accomplishments. Carpenedo, who will major in electrical engineering and computer science at Cal, learned how to code a robot for a Haybalers team that won their division in the CalGames Robotics competition.
“It was a crazy freshman year for robotics,” he said. “Basically, the entire team from the previous year turned over so there were only two returning members. Ten to 12 of us were brand new and there was a ton of stuff to learn, but it was really cool because everyone was interested in robotics. We didn’t have state of the art equipment and basically were working out of the school’s maintenance room. So we were granted free rein of this huge room in a warehouse, and it was really fun being able to tinker and figure things out ourselves.”
Carpenedo wasn’t able to go to the CalGames with the robotics team that year because of water polo commitments, but for winning the competition, they got to bring home a giant Roomba which stayed at SBHS until last week.
“We never got it to work in the shop because it doesn’t like the wifi, but I was able to take it home (on the last day of school),” he said.
Because of Cal’s low acceptance rate, Carpenedo didn’t expect to get in. Now he can’t wait to meet and study with other students—many of whom were valedictorians at their respective high schools—knowing the competition will drive him to new heights.
Carpenedo credits his parents for their continual support over the years to help make this all possible. Interestingly enough, Carpenedo’s parents never pushed him in one specific direction or needled him to do his homework.
“But they always supported me in the decisions I made and were there to help if I needed it,” he said.
Since the fields of artificial intelligence and robotics interest him, Carpenedo often wondered what it would be like if his parents worked in the tech field to show him the ropes—his dad works for a jet fuel pipeline company and his mom is a substitute teacher—but he’s come to realize his parents provided him the best opportunity to find his path.
“Figuring things out myself has kind of been the theme of my life,” he said.
Emanuel Lee can be reached at email@example.com