Alexis Geiger had faith that succeeding in school would be her way out of a troubled family life, which included living in a motorcycle shop owned by her father and bouncing from home to home until a schoolmate's mother welcomed Geiger into hers.
In her senior year of high school, Geiger's faith has been rewarded. She has been accepted into Binghamton University -- her first step toward a dream of becoming a doctor.
School staff and members of the Seaford family who took Geiger in last year describe her academic career as a monument to will.
Geiger, 17, said what it really took was focus -- on schoolwork, sports and clubs, and not on her difficult family life. She kept herself busy in high school as a member of the Key Club, the National Honor Society and the drama club, by running track and by playing the French horn in the marching band. She also tutors peers in German and biology.
"I just thought that the only way I could get out of that situation would be if I kept up my studies and pushed myself the best I could to get into a really good college," said Geiger, who will graduate with a weighted average above 100. "That was my main focus, no matter how bad my day was."
Geiger was born in Stuttgart, Germany, and immigrated to America with her family when she was 5. Her parents separated shortly after, she said.
She lived with her father until starting her junior year, spending several years using the parts and inventory area of his Mineola motorcycle shop as a bedroom, she said. The Geigers later moved to a machine shop in Freeport. There was an apartment above it, but conditions were less than ideal, and there was still strife in the family, she said. Geiger eventually left, living with an aunt and then a friend.
In December, Patricia Nicholson, a single mother whose son attends Seaford High, learned of Geiger's situation and took her in.
"I found out she was a great kid and needed a place to be until she goes away to college," Nicholson said.
Now, with the help of grants, loans and scholarships, Geiger is poised to begin Binghamton in the fall as a double major in German and biology.
She said the high point of her high school career was transferring from Freeport High School to Seaford High, because it was "where people started caring." In college, she said, she is looking forward to pushing herself academically and preparing for medical school.
When she comes home for breaks, it will be to Nicholson's house, Geiger said.
"It has been like a blessing, and they've given me that extra push I've needed to get into college," she said. "I'm pretty much one of their own."