Editor's Note: These students were selected by their individual schools to be featured as a spotlight.
Before arriving in Harrisburg four years ago, Olex Ziner spent seven years in an orphanage in Ukraine. He is the eighth child of Larry and Michelle Ziner who adopted him after they hosted him through an international hosting program for orphans.
Olex knew very little English when he arrived in America and had little idea of what living in a family or attending a public school entailed. One thing he was sure of, was that he wanted to eventually join the United States Military.
Favorite moments in high school?
His first step at Hickory Ridge was to register for JROTC class and as a result, his favorite moments in school relate to this program.
“It was here that I learned how to improve myself as a person by building character that is presentable to other people. This includes respect for others, my country, the US flag and veterans. I do not believe veterans receive enough respect,” said Ziner.
He enjoyed the competitions between other schools and added that JROTC has made him a better citizen of America.
How have you changed over the last four years?
So much has changed for Olex over the past four years. First was learning a new language well enough to take high school level classes with some understanding. He attended English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for a short time and went from no knowledge to teaching other new students in ESL summer camp. According to Ziner, he changed from having an “orphan mentality” which includes fighting for everything you have, surviving on your own, not having real or safe relationships, and no loving leader or guide, to the opposite mentality, of a “loved and cared for son.”
As trust formed, Olex learned to develop meaningful relationships.
“It would have been impossible for me to have done this on my own. It is only because of the support of my parents, family, friends and church, that surrounded me and helped me over the years, that I grew as a person,” said Ziner.
He also drastically changed his attitude toward school. As a young child with no direction, he had no experience with learning or studying. He admitted he slept through orphanage school. It was a surprise when he entered 9th grade at HRHS and he struggled taking on such advanced classes but as time went on, he began to realize he kind of liked it. In time, his grades reflected his hard work.
What are you going to miss most?
It’s the teachers, friends, and JROTC that Olex will miss the most as he moves on.
“The teachers assisted me through my struggle of learning the curriculum without knowledge of the language. The instructors and fellow cadets in JROTC helped to set the foundation of who I am today and who I hope to be in the future,” said Ziner.
Any advice for students just starting or already here?
As to advice for those coming into high school, Olex says that life will be difficult at times and you will make mistakes but if you didn’t fail, you wouldn’t learn, and to take the lesson with you and grow from it. He added that the people you surround yourself with will mold you. “Without my family and friends, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. I am more grateful than they can imagine. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do to help them, the way that they helped me,” said Ziner.
Any plans after graduation?
At the end of this high school journey, Olex will realize his lifelong dream of serving in the military. He has enlisted in the United States Marine Corp. and will attend bootcamp in the fall.
“I am hoping to influence the world by helping to make it a safer place for all of us,” Ziner concluded.