OMAHA, Neb. -- The man of the hour seems a little uncomfortable about all the fuss.
University of Nebraska at Omaha student John Patrick Nicholson of Bellevue sits quietly, face passive, near the bustle of an American Red Cross blood drive organized in his honor by fellow students.
As he talks about another tribute -- carrying his college banner at the UNO commencement May 4 -- he says he's grateful to be recognized, but wonders why he was chosen. He's only a sophomore, and the distinction usually belongs to graduating seniors.
"I don't have a 4.0," he says, as if that explains everything.
He does have a 3.5 GPA despite being in and out of hospitals through much of his college career. He also earned a four-year, full-ride Regents Scholarship to UNO following a cancer diagnosis at age 15. He had to relearn speech, motor skills and classwork after having brain surgery.
He's known for his soft-spoken, gentle demeanor, his generosity, his love for video games and an admirable work ethic.
For nearly five years, he was cancer-free. The cancer returned a couple of years ago, and despite clinical trials and other intense treatments, doctors now say he has about six months to live, a more grim prediction than the one to two years they gave him in January.
The Omaha World-Herald reports that now he's facing the flurry of honors at UNO. He's handling the tributes with humility and the prognosis with pragmatism and peace.
"The mindset I hold is ... if I don't have to do this, please don't make me. But if I have to, I will," Nicholson says. "If this is going to happen, I'm OK."
To some, that may sound like denial. For Nicholson, it's determination and faith. He's living his life as usual amid chemotherapy, clinical trials and setbacks. He's pursuing his degree in IT innovation, spending time with family, friends and fellow dorm dwellers at UNO's St. John Paul II Newman Center, and tackling items on his bucket list.
His Catholic identity is a huge part of his attitude. He says he models his approach to his illness after Christ's approach to his fate: Jesus says "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done," Nicholson explains.
Perseverance is equally as important.
He came late to the blood drive because he was presenting an end-of-the-semester project with classmates, work he completed over the past few months despite grueling treatment, including several days when his brain waves slowed to the point that he was completely incapacitated.
And when professors in the UNO College of Information Science and Technology wanted to give him an honorary degree at the May 4 graduation ceremony, "he was not a fan of the idea," says Magie Hall, an assistant professor in the UNO College of Information Science and Technology. It was a real diploma or nothing.
"He wants to build and he wants to make and he wants his degree to be (from) those things," Hall says.
College deans and professors called his bluff and figured out a different way he could participate at graduation. He was selected as a marshal for the graduation ceremony. With his parents in the front row, snapping numerous photos on their phones, he solemnly carried his college's banner across the length of Baxter Arena, leading graduates to their seats.
That job goes to "the top of the top," says Hall, who nominated him for the honor. And that certainly applies to Nicholson, especially considering his obstacles.
Mom Catherine Nicholson of Bellevue said her son had finished introductory algebra and had been studying geometry and Latin in home-school before his initial brain surgery. Afterward, he tested as a fourth-grader in math.
Catherine Nicholson -- who gave up her law career to stay at home -- began John Patrick's long relearning process with toys intended for 18-month-olds.
"I would ask him 'Can you put the square block in the square hole?'" she says. "He needed to learn to read, spell and multiply along with planning and executing those plans."
It took more than four years to regain his brain power, make up for lost learning time, receive his home-school diploma and snag his scholarship with a score of more than 30 on the ACT. He mastered advanced Latin, advanced physics, government, economics and advanced math.
In typical fashion, Nicholson downplays his achievement.
"It wasn't too hard. You know how the brain works. It's easy to relearn. It wasn't like all the info was gone, it was just not connected," he says.
In 2016, he enrolled in UNO at age 20. His parents wanted him close to home because of his illness but thought he could benefit from living in the dorm. Though he was highly intelligent, he also was a little immature, his mom says.
Cancer's return disrupted his college experience, but until this year, he took a full course load.
He's not ready to quit learning. He became a part-time student this semester when he was having treatment in Houston, but he still devoted much of his time to remote classes. He hopes to design and build a controller that would change video games. He didn't want to reveal too much about the device because he wants to use it as his senior project at UNO. He has a bucket list, and that's a major entry.
He's not ready to give up hope.
"It might not be as terminal as doctors say," he says.
He'll visit Lourdes, France, with his parents later this spring. A peasant girl, now St. Bernadette, said she saw 18 apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes in the 1850s, and thousands of Catholics have made pilgrimages there since that time. Miraculous healings have been attributed to the city's spring water. He'll reconnect with relatives in Germany on that same trip. More bucket list stuff.
And he's not ready to give up fun. With his dad, Chuck, he plays Pokémon Go "all over the place," Catherine says.
Nicholson also copes by helping others. In 2014, when his cancer was in remission, he completed an Eagle Scout project, raising nearly $6,000 for Children's Hospital. The funds went toward buying and maintaining tablet computers for patients.
His mom says she endures by taking life by the hour, the minute, even by the breath. Both Nicholson and John Patrick's roommate, Steven Schreffler, say they've never seen John Patrick break down or cry. Or give up.
"It's pretty shocking, but at the same time inspiring, the way he handles it," Schreffler says. "Sometimes you forget, I guess, really what it all means because of the way it doesn't change anything for him. He hasn't quit anything he was doing before."
To Nicholson, that means he's been successful. He wants to be treated normally, and remains upbeat -- even employing humor -- because he wants to be an example.
"If I don't know someone and they learn I have cancer and I'm probably going to die, once they understand I'm OK with that fact, they're OK," he says. "Everyone dies. My expiration date is just shorter."