By Cady Kuzmich
Clifton Park — While it’s no secret our daily lives are intricately interwoven with a broader historical context, that fact is especially apparent to 16 year old Dylan Nezaj, a junior at Shenendehowa, who has grown up hearing his parents talk about their families’ journey fleeing communist Albania.
When asked who has had the greatest influence on him up to this point in his life, Nezaj replied, “My parents,” without hesitation. His parents now manage Afrim’s Sports and Nezaj has two brothers — 14 year old Benny and 30 year old Ryan.
“They had tough childhoods,” he said. His mother grew up under a communist regime in Albania before moving to the states in her twenties. His father’s family fled Albania and his father was born in Kosovo before moving to the Bronx at age nine. ‘They worked so hard to get to where we are today,” he said. Nezaj said his parents told him, ‘The harder you work now, the less hard you’ll have to work later in life.”
Nezaj has taken that notion to heart. Last year he joined Clifton Park’s Youth Court, a program that enables young offenders to be tried by a jury of their peers, in three different roles. Nezaj enjoys working with this local peer-based restorative justice system and said, “It gives you a sense that you have an impact on your community.”
Mrs. Pfaffenbach, a world history teacher at Shenendehowa, has further strengthened Nezaj’s sense of historical awareness. “She makes [history] relevant to your life,” he said. “I’ve had plenty of wonderful teachers but she’s one that stands out.”
Nezaj is keeping his options open, exploring a variety of fields by volunteering with Youth Court, Ellis Hospital, the Museum of Innovation and Science, Habitat for Humanity and Nick’s Fight to be Healed. He’s also part of Shenendehowa’s Model United Nations team — he represented El Salvador at a conference in Boston last month. “I’m still in the stage in my life that I’m pursuing a lot of different things,” he said.
While Nezaj’s interests span far and wide, he’s drawn to the STEM field, specifically medicine, engineering and astrophysics. “I have an open mind at this point,” he said.
He added, “I’ve gone through phases. When I was younger I loved dinosaurs and told everybody I wanted to be a paleontologist. Then I wanted to be a geologist. Now I love going out with my friends with my telescope.” These days Nezaj is fascinated with astronomy — his favorite book is Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos.” His love of the stars might be partially traced back to his love of Star Wars and Star Trek.
In 10 years, Nezaj said he’ll probably still be in college pursuing research. He hopes to be doing something that will leave a long standing impact on the field of science. “I’ll keep educating myself and will never stop learning,” he said.
Nezaj said he’s most proud of having the tenacity to exceed his own expectations and “become the best person I can become.” The biggest challenge Nezaj faces is balancing everything on his plate. “I like to be busy, but it’s a stressful time,” he said.
If he had an hour to spare, Nezaj said he’d either sleep, spend time with friends and family or read something for pleasure since most of his reading is homework-related these days.
A button reading, “I’m ready for Bernie” was pinned on his backpack. Nezaj said he’s drawn to Sanders because he agrees with the social principles put forth by Sanders. Describing his family’s thoughts on Sanders, who is often labeled “communist” by conservative critics, Nezaj said, “To us, there’s a pretty clear line between “communists” and Bernie Sanders. We’re not anti-capitalist but feel that there is more we could do to make sure people don’t go hungry.”
If Nezaj could go anywhere, he said he’d like to visit Mars. He’s already visited Albania twice to meet relatives. “It means a lot to connect with our roots. America’s great and all but there’s no feeling like going back to the homeland,” he said.
Given the chance to meet anyone, dead or alive, Nezaj said he’d like to meet his grandfather. “He died when I was five. I never got a chance to meet him but my mother tells me I look exactly like him,” said Nezaj. He added, “I hear nice things about him from anyone who met him.”