Meet Alex Nadirashvili, the valedictorian of Hawthorne High School Class of 2020. Achieving the top rank in one’s class is always a praise-worthy accomplishment, but in this case, the accomplishment is especially noteworthy. Alex’s achievement of earning the highest grade-point average of his high school class and his acceptance into Ivy League Brown University impressively illustrates the fulfillment of the American promise of a free and quality education to all immigrant children.
The Nadirashvili family—mom, Maka; dad, Levan; Alex; and his siblings Nina, George, and Kate—immigrated to the United States from the Republic of Georgia in 2010 when Alex was 7 years old. In Georgia, for several years his parents applied for the Green Card Lottery. In 2009, they got word that they could take the next steps toward earning that Green Card. Another year-long process full of anxiety followed. Then in March, 2010, the family was interviewed at the United States Embassy in Georgia and were finally approved. In just two short months, the Nadirashvilis sold their apartment and nearly all of their belongings, packed up their lives, and got on a plane to begin a new life in America.
In Georgia, Alex had been learning Russian, German, and English, but remembers that nothing was really sticking. His older sister, Nina, was the only family member with a rudimentary knowledge of their new language, along with his grandmother who had come to America a few years earlier. But once Alex was enrolled in his 3rd grade class in Washington School in Hawthorne, there was no holding him back, and he quickly became an outstanding student despite the loneliness he felt in his new home.
Alex recalls that the most challenging aspect of coming to America was adjusting to the loss of his extended family. “In Georgia,” he says, “there is an extreme emphasis on the importance of an extended family. No one is a second cousin or an aunt once-removed; it’s all just family. So, living in a country without the cousins I saw as siblings, and aunts I saw as second mothers, and every other member of my family made it difficult to not feel very lonely. I can only imagine how much more this feeling was amplified in my parents.”
But it wasn’t long before the Nadirashvilis found a new “family” in Hawthorne. Alex has a clear memory of the first time he truly felt at home in America. It was the first Christmas Eve in 2010. On this date in Georgia, the family would celebrate with presents and a big dinner. Because he was no longer with his entire family and was in a new country with different traditions, Alex says he did not expect anything special to happen. But, to his surprise, his grandmother’s friend, Ronnie, came knocking on his door that night. She brought presents, too many to count: toy guitars that played music, countless coloring books, a Hula Hoop, and much more. Under the colorful fairy lights of his small Christmas tree, Alex recalls that the evening felt “absolutely surreal.”
In the Hawthorne school system, Alex found everything he needed to excel academically, socially, and personally. His willingness to try new things and keep himself open to all opportunities has filled his days with not only a wide range of College Advance Placement courses (including U.S. History, Statistics, English Language and Composition, Physics, Biology, English Literature and Composition, Calculus, and Human Geography), but also with an eclectic list of extracurricular activities that Alex believes gave him exposure to the diversity of students and cultures found in Hawthorne. These include the Creative Writing Club, Peer Leaders, SAT tutoring, Spanish Honor Society, and being the Sound Manager for the HHS Theater Department and participating in the STEM Tank competition (which won first-place in the NJ competition).
The Nadirashvilis have taken everything Hawthorne and America has to offer and have given back so much more. Alex’s older sister Nina graduated from Boston College last year and is currently living her best life in Austria as a Fulbright Scholar. His brother George is entering his senior year at the University of Delaware, preparing to go into a field of business or sports management. And the youngest of the clan, Kate, is entering eighth grade at Lincoln Middle School as the captain of her basketball team with large shoes to fill as she continues her academic journey.
No doubt, Alex has earned the honor of representing his class and giving the valedictory speech on graduation day. He is the kind of student and young person a school system can be extremely proud of. Christine Wegert, Director of School Counseling Services at Hawthorne High School, says, “We have been so lucky to have had Alex Nadirashvili walking through our halls these past four years. His drive for excellence, passion for change, and overall kindness towards others stood out not only to his peers but to staff and administration alike. Alex strove for growth and progress. He never stopped wanting to learn, show innovation and be his best self.”
When asked to look beyond the horizon, Alex’s answer reminds us of the promise of the American dream that his family gave up so much to attain. “If I had to describe my perfect future,” he says, “it would be as a successful college graduate, living somewhere near New York City, and working in some form of media entertainment—perhaps as a copyeditor at a publishing firm, a journalist at a newspaper, or a writer for a television series. I think that all media, even the fictional type, plays such an important role in our society, and is responsible for so much of how we think and behave; I would love to have even a sliver of that responsibility.”