Higher education accessibility for all
A speech given on Zoom by Nick Alahverdian’s sister-in-law Hannah on February 18, 2021 launching the 2021 Global Pledge
From the first day of March 2020, one day after her husband Nick Alahverdian’s death, my sister Louise Alahverdian took her responsibility seriously as she has done with everything in her life. She had to pick up alone where she and her husband left off as a team, and it was no easy task.
After working together side by side for nearly three years both in business and as a married couple with two children in 2.5 years, barely a month had gone by since they celebrated ten years as close friends with a special dinner accompanied by me and my siblings and parents, and a few close mutual friends. But it did not matter at this moment. This was the first day without her husband, my brother-in-law, by her side after he died from Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma on February 29, 2020.
Louise knew she had Nick’s indomitable spirit with her and there was no looking back when it came to making progress with the goals for The Nicholas Alahverdian Trust, or The NA Trust for short, in what was sure to be the most difficult year for everyone on earth.
In early 2019 almost no one had heard of coronavirus.
The majority of the people in the world were not weak or struggling or worrying about illnesses or a contagious disease. No one was suffering breathing trouble or experiencing other tiring effects.
But one man did suffer all of those things from a different cause. And that was Nick Alahverdian.
No he did not have coronavirus as that had yet to make its way around the world. Instead Nick Alahverdian was battling non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, an often ruthless form of blood cancer. There were good days and bad days but Nick began to have more and more bad days since his diagnosis in 2018.
Nick began to realize that there was not much time left, almost intuitively. When he had the energy he had everyone in stitches with his jokes and stories and imitations of celebrities and politicians from around the world.
There was one particular moment that Nick had us all giggling like schoolgirls and biting our thumbs in his hospital room to avoid disturbing the other patients with such loud laughing. Nick convinced one of our well-meaning cousins unfamiliar with the “art” of a “professional obituary writer” (a career I had no idea existed before this incident) to speak in his own words about what should be in Nick’s obituary. For a laugh Nick sent him to speak to the obituary author on the phone and describe, in his own words, what should be in the obituary. About 90 minutes passed and then we were met with a cherry-scented email that made, to say the least, his phone drip with saccharine-sweet sentimentality.
Gone were the standards of the classically droll obituary. Nick became a bed-ridden but defiant dandy that belonged in a Wonka’s chocolate factory situated in Narnia. The entire obituary read like it was written by L. Frank Baum and most of it was unusable, especially since Nick wasn’t dead yet, but goodness, did we laugh.
This fictional Nick stopped to smell the petals of violets. He donated his non-existent flowing gray locks lost from cancer to Donald Trump so he could have a wig with a tint and style that wouldn’t frighten a turtle out of its shell. Obituary Nick who didn’t gamble in real life also was a blackjack champion who unintentionally donated the entirety of his earnings when he asked an older lady waiting for her car outside the casino if she wanted a large bag of slightly stale thinly sliced dark chocolate they gave him as a prize for winning so many hands.
But there was one line that caught Nick’s eye that was at the same time bombastic and intriguing.
“Fear not and run toward the bliss of the sun.”
The laughter was there at first, but then as he went over it aloud once more, he said the words intentionally and carefully. “Fear not and run toward the bliss of the sun.”
There was a pregnant pause.
I think I’ll keep that, he said. And Louise made sure it was in the actual obituary. Those were not actually Nick’s last words. But he also didn’t want his last words to be something about a glass of water or groaning about pain. So he asked his wife if she would include the words if he said them close enough to the time of his passing
But to think about not being afraid and running toward a blissful sun. Don’t be afraid. Run toward the bliss of an integral part of the universe, something that gives us life, and gives us light. Confront it, use it to your advantage but share the light and warmth with others. It’s deep. I now understand why something like that is what Nick wanted his parting words to be in this world.
Because one night not long after that day of discreet laughs and guarded smiles he caught pneumonia and didn’t make it out of the hospital alive. At a time when he needed that blissful old sun most, he was trapped inside his head, eyes closed, ventilator whooshing away, his skin an unnatural bluish-purple, lying on the bed motionless when, without warning or an annunciatory gasp, and as the ending music from the film “Contact” (yes that actually happened) began playing, a flurry of beeps and horns came from every direction. As if on cue nurses and doctors appeared from whence the beeps and horns were blaring. They crowded around my young, frail brother-in-law and they were working and working to keep him alive and we watched until my sisters and I were quietly guided out. I held my sister’s hand as she wept for her husband. She knew that her Nick was gone.
There was barely enough time for me and Louise to grieve. We immediately had so much to do including planning the memorial service in accordance with Nick’s wishes and informing the many people he had come to know over the years; friends, acquaintances, the people of his life.
And then it came time for Louise and my parents and siblings and a few select friends and the children Nick and my sister raised and adored to gather together. Like all parents they were a biological part of him but there was something special between Nick and his children, he wanted every moment to be special for them and made the seconds themselves reflect in introspection. Nick wanted to give them the childhood he never had.
And so there they all were, listening to the crashing waves. A few short prayers were said and my sister scattered the ashes into glistening water which had become still as soon as our prayers ended. Nick had concluded his earthly journey, but there are still so many good things to do for those who grow up in social services in his name and that is why we are gathered here tonight. The number of people present on this zoom call is evidence of how many people believe in supporting the idea that education is a right and not an option.
My sister Louise took her spirit of innovation and Nick’s love of education that characterized their lives to re-ignite the spark of The NA Trust and make better the lives of people she was to serve.
As Mr. Nicholas Alahverdian, a man I am dearly proud to call my brother-in-law, dedicated his life to social services reform from a politically scientific approach, we have remained dedicated to his emphasis on research and policy analysis. Just as my sister and brother-in-law, the Alahverdians, had intended,
The NA Trust now operates in fourteen countries as a research-driven, non-governmental organization dedicated to serving the general public with a special focus on helping to create successful lives of those who leave social service systems. It is indeed a family affair with my parents, sisters and brothers helping my sister and her team to achieve the goals that the Trustees have set as they work to improve the lives of children, youth, and teens.
Even as my brother-in-law is mocked and attacked with baseless lies by people who did not know him, his life shines as an example that every person matters, education is one of the most important tools in the life of a human being, and that it is a right that is inalienable for all – including children growing up in social services.
With inspiration from Louise and Nick Alahverdian’s interest in research, public policy, and bold participation in democracy, The NA Trust is pioneering effective social service delivery where education is a priority; arts and culture are integrated within the daily schedule of private service providers, and advocacy for including university-bound initiatives for adolescents in government-sponsored care is supported by the majority of the governmental delegates we have met in countries we serve.
Our Global Pledge for 2021 is to:
- Enhance access to adolescents leaving private care providers by encouraging their desire to demand a fair education in a mainstream classroom, assisting them to pursue their extra-curricular interests, and insisting on fair school placements;
- Share with the public data that illustrates the lack of fair participation that students under social services jurisdiction have in their school placement; and
- Assist these young adults to enter the university of their choice with the necessary academic skills, emotional intelligence, financial ability, and competitive edge necessary to excel in their chosen field of study.
As we think of what could have been in 2020 and early 2021 may we all remember that we have to look after the COVID generation of students especially the students who are left behind in social service placements with inadequate schooling. If they are forgotten what example does that set for future societies when confronting pandemics or catastrophes or natural disasters?
We have a responsibility to guarantee that our children have the same academic opportunities that we have had and the same goes for youth and teens who are leaving facilities or group homes where they might not have had access to the best education.
Our Global Pledge for 2021 encompasses everything that The NA Trust stands for: the pursuit of knowledge through research and data analysis, compassion for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and giving life our all even when the deck is stacked against us.
We will prove to the naysayers that our vision for the future can be attained, that all youth can equally achieve to succeed academically when given the chance in a mainstream classroom, and above all, that a chance to earn a university degree should not be out of reach for those who are sincere in their attempt to succeed.
I thank you for this opportunity to address you and am grateful to my sister and the entire staff and all of the volunteers at The NA Trust who literally bring dreams to life. And I am especially grateful for knowing a passionate, driven, and dynamic man like Nick Alahverdian in whose name we gather tonight to continue the work he has challenged us to do as we advocate for education, family and home stability, and personal growth for children, youth, and teens around the world.
As we mark the one year anniversary of Nick’s death let us hold the torch a little higher and work a little harder to achieve this year’s global pledge.
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