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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    NFA senior receives full scholarship to Tufts thanks to Grey Goose vodka founder

    Alexandra Tabilas works on the early stages of a drawing for an art project Friday, April 19, 2024, during her AP Studio Art class time at NFA. Tabilas is the recipient of the prestigious Sidney E. Frank Memorial Scholarship. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Alexandra Tabilas works on the early stages of a drawing for an art project Friday, April 19, 2024, during her AP Studio Art class time at NFA. Tabilas is the recipient of the prestigious Sidney E. Frank Memorial Scholarship. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Alexandra Tabilas looks a her book of notes and ideas while working the early stages of drawing an art project Friday, April 19, 2024, during her AP Studio Art class time at NFA. Tabilas is the recipient of the prestigious Sidney E. Frank Memorial Scholarship. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Norwich ― Norwich Free Academy senior Alexandra Tabilas fell in love with Tufts University when she visited last summer and was accepted.

    But when she saw the financial aid package offered, her heart sank, knowing her family could not afford it.

    In January, she heard a friend talk about the Sidney E. Frank Memorial Scholarship, a prestigious scholarship awarded only every four years to an NFA student in just her situation.

    The scholarship covers all college-related expenses ― tuition, room and board and books ― for all four years of undergraduate study at any of U.S. News and World Reports top 75 ranked colleges in the United States.

    The Sidney Frank Foundation, created by the NFA graduate and billionaire who created the Grey Goose brand of vodka, donated $12 million in 2005 to his alma mater to build the Sidney Frank Center for Visual and Performing Arts.

    A year later, the foundation donated $2.5 million to create the Sidney Frank Scholarship in response to Frank’s own college experience. Frank, who died in 2006, was forced to drop out of Brown University after just one semester, because his family could not afford the cost. He never went back to college but later donated $100 million to Brown to provide financial aid to needy students.

    Tabilas, 17, of Preston, was one of two finalists. A committee read applicants’ essays without their names. The applicants were interviewed by Head of School Nathan Quesnel, Director of School Counseling Jessica Vocatura and Human Resources Director Anthony Menard.

    On Friday, April 12, Tabilas’ counselor, Anne Zinn, escorted her to Quesnel’s office, where the committee surprised and congratulated her. The rest of that meeting was a blur. She called her mother, Angela Tabilas, but had to hand the phone to Quesnel to break the news.

    “I didn’t even know what to do at that point,” Tabilas said Thursday. “Then I had to continue with the rest of my day. I had a test right after, physics, my hardest class.”

    Angela Tabilas said the Sidney Frank scholarship is not even something you’d see in movies.

    “It’s kind of bananas,” her mother said. “Something like this is all but unheard of. It doesn’t happen in academics. This is something you hear about in athletics. It’s over the top. We celebrate everything but this.”

    Alex Tabilas plans to study engineering at Tufts, following in her mother’s footsteps. Angela Tabilas is a staff engineer at Electric Boat in Groton.

    Angela Tabilas said NFA should be lauded for all the scholarships and opportunities the academy provides for students.

    “If you look at all the awards and scholarships as a whole, it’s just mind-boggling,” she said.

    Quesnel said NFA will distribute over $750,000 in scholarships this year through its endowments and gifts. Tabilas, he said, represents NFA’s commitment to providing students with opportunities to excel.

    “Alex Tabilas is going to do some special things in the world,” Quesnel said. “And the chance to see her at NFA, of being able to provide a scholarship, to give a kid with so much potential this opportunity is beyond exciting. The world is in for good things with Alex Tabilas.”

    Angela Tabilas, a 1984 NFA graduate who graduated from the University of Connecticut, said she and her ex-wife, Donna Osborne, moved from Montville to Preston when Alex was in third grade to be in an NFA partner school district. Throughout Alex’s grammar school years, her mother pushed the school district to offer more programs and to challenge her daughter and other students.

    At NFA, Alex, “hit the ground running,” her mother said.

    In 2020, Alex went from a class of 40 students at Preston Plains Middle School to a class of more than 500 attending in-person classes only two days a week, wearing masks and unable to congregate during COVID-19 restrictions.

    Alex was reserved. She hadn’t needed to make new friends since third grade, and now was surrounded by hundreds of new faces, many speaking different languages.

    Her shyness melted as she absorbed her surroundings.

    “I get to come to this beautiful campus every day and walk around and see so many different people and so many different cultures,” Tabilas said. “I’m definitely going to miss the diversity here, because we come from so many different towns and so many different backgrounds.”

    This year, Alex convinced her mother to host an international student from Spain, Pablo Vazquez. An only child, Tabilas calls him her “host brother.” She says she tries to practice Spanish with him, “but he is way beyond me.”

    “It was Alexandra’s idea,” Angela Tabilas said. “She thought we wanted to add excitement to the house. It added excitement and shook up the house in just the right way.”

    At NFA, Alex played soccer and lacrosse and is on the N Club, a student athlete leadership club that does volunteer work. She also serves on the Eastern Connecticut Conference Diversity Committee with student athletes from each ECC school. They discuss sportsmanship, in one project, the group came up with tracks of warm-up music with “safe lyrics” to play before games.

    Tabilas said she will miss NFA, her friends and her teachers but is excited and ready for the next step in her education at Tufts.

    “The scholarship is actually amazing, because I can go to my dream school now,” Tabilas said.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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