The Baldwin Hills resident sports a 4.86 grade point average while blazing a trail on the track.
By Jason Lewis
Blake Shepherd has straight A’s while taking the maximum amount of advanced placement (AP) and honors classes. The junior at Cathedral High School is preparing for a career in aerospace engineering; he is positioning himself to attend either the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), which has a jet propulsion laboratory (JPL) that is run by NASA, or Stanford; and while he is achieving academic excellence on the highest level, he has somehow found time to become a standout sprinter on the track.
As a sophomore, Shepherd ran the 100-meter dash in 10.8 seconds, and he’s looking to lower that to a 10.6 this year. He is also looking to run the 200-meter dash in the low 21-second range. Times like those would put him among California’s best high school sprinter.
Shepherd started running track when he was in the sixth grade, and within two years he was earning gold medals at the Junior Olympics.
Track is a type of sport where an athlete gets out of it exactly what he or she puts into it, which is similar to excelling academically. Hard work is the difference between success or just being average.
“Most of it is work ethic,” Shepherd said. “I study a lot and I spend a lot of time doing homework. I take pride in what I do. Whether it’s a small homework assignment or a large project, I try my best at it every time. I think track connects with that well. Every time you step on the track, you try to push yourself harder than you’ve ever been pushed before. You’re trying to run faster, and you try to hold that speed longer. Track got me comfortable with the idea pushing myself harder than I’ve ever pushed myself before. And trying 110 percent every single time. That translated into staying up late to complete homework assignments and staying after school to study for a test.”
While Shepherd attends Cathedral High School, he trains with New Image Training Group three times a week at Rancho Cienega Sports Complex.
“His work ethic is great,” coach Christopher Mack said. “Anything that you put in front of Blake, he’s going to do it without complaining. Compared to my other high school athletes, he’s in the top five that I have ever trained.”
Academically, Shepherd’s 4.86 grade point average (GPA) is the highest score that a junior at his school can have, and only two of his classmates have equaled that mark. Because he excels in every class, he has a hard time determining which subject is his favorite.
“Whenever people ask me what my favorite class is, it’s always a struggle between AP calculus and AP history, because I’m a history nut, but I just like math,” he said. “I like the analytical answers to everything (in math). In English, for example, you can argue about the right answer. But in math, I like the clear cut way of doing things. And I want to be an aerospace engineer.”
Aerospace engineers design or are involved in the production of aircrafts and spacecrafts.
“Aerospace engineering is broken down into astronautics, which deals with things that leaves earth’s atmosphere, like rockets; and aeronautics, which are things that stay in earth’s atmosphere, like air planes and helicopters. So I want to deal with things that are leaving the atmosphere.”
Shepherd became interested in flight as a young child, and his focus within the industry changed as he learned more about the field.
“When I was younger, I wanted to be a pilot,” he said. “As I grew up and started looking into planes and stuff, I started to like the design of it more, and then I started to really get into the design of F-18s, F-15s, and other military jets. Then I picket up a book that was about space travel. I was like, ‘Wow, flying super fast and carrying a bunch of stuff was cool, but flying out of the atmosphere and into orbit was even cooler. So I just got into rockets.”
Shepherd is a member of the Los Angeles Astronomers Society, which meets throughout the year at the Griffith Observatory and Garvey Observatory for star-watching events. The next group that he’s going to join is the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).
Helping others is also important to Shepherd. He volunteers at School on Wheels, which is an after school tutoring program for homeless kids. He works at the Skid Row Learning Center.
“I work with this group of first graders, and they are like the nicest, most generous and tenacious people I know,” he said.
With an extremely high GPA and all of the extracurricular activities that Shepherd is doing, attending his dream college is within his reach.
“For an astronautics nut, or somebody that just loves any engineering, Cal Tech is like the dream school,” he said. “The Mars rover, that was made in JPL. They make rockets and stuff like that.”
Shepherd credits his drive to succeed to his parents, who he says have pushed him from a young age to do well academically and athletically.
“My mom is the hardest working person that I have ever known, and my dad is a super hard worker too,” he said. “Everybody around me is working hard, so I have to do that too. I have never seen anybody in my family slack off.”
Hard work has led Shepherd to excel in the classroom and on the track, and it will allow him to shoot for the stars.