2018 Winner

Denise Zivkovic

Park City, UT

I was born in Wiesbaden, Germany to my war refugee parents of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. They had escaped the civil war tearing up their home countries and settled in Germany in hopes of a better life, staying there for nine years before moving to Utah in 2001. My family stayed in Salt Lake City for the next sixteen years. Growing up, I always held on tightly to my heritage and the magnificent differences it allowed me to share with my community. Like the traditional meals my mom cooked daily or the ethnic music my dad played non-stop on the sound system.

Fleeing a warzone in their late teens left them with nothing more than a high school diploma. This reality limited their work opportunities to minimum wage jobs with unappealing hours that they had to accept in order to support their family of six. Over the years my mother was able to attend Salt Lake Community College part-time and receive a one-year certificate in computer repair while my father worked toward a CDL to be a truck driver. These new qualifications helped to get my parents better paying jobs, but still, it wasn’t always enough.

Motivated by my mother to do well in school I pushed myself to take several AP and honors courses to learn the most I could during my public education. I often had to watch my parents struggle to make ends meet over the years because of their lack of a college education. I have known from a young age that attending a university would be the best way for me to create the base of a successful future. Throughout school I flourished as classes became more advanced and I found subjects that piqued my interests. In ninth grade I enrolled into a STEM charter school. I began my freshman year at the Academy for math, engineering, & science. with a world full of opportunities and a mind full of motivation.

I packed my schedule and hunkered down, soon to realize that I needed space for friends. So, I joined school clubs like yoga & mindfulness, service through science, and popped in on the donut club every so often. I made plenty of friends and built a cohort of people that cared about my success and well-being. These groups were such a powerful influence in leading me to a successful high school career. Then, in March of 2017 I had to leave AMES because my family was moving out of the country.

My mother had decided that it was time for her to see her family again; it had been twenty years or more since she had seen her sister or parents. Relatives had recently passed and she worried there wouldn’t be another chance to be with her family. After some research, she felt that there was ample opportunity for her to start a career and live in Croatia. In the middle of my Junior year of high school, my life was uprooted. We packed our bags and made the trek to Pula, Croatia. Finally meeting face to face people, I had only heard about I was able to explore this new world that was to become my home. It was a blessing to learn about the lives they were all leading and to finally hug them or look in their eyes without having the barrier of time zone difference or bad Skype connection.

I was ecstatic about this new world I would get to explore and the language I would finally have the opportunity to speak daily. In many ways it was like coming home for the first time while in others it was like an alien world.

As we processed paperwork for citizenship I was unable to attend the local school. This meant each day I fell behind in my education and wasn’t sure there would be plan to help me recover. As weeks turned to months, I feared that I wouldn’t have the ability to complete high school with my graduating class. I did the best I could, reading books each day and self-teaching math and science courses for my personal knowledge so I wouldn’t get left behind. The summer came and went while I still waited for citizenship and news of my ability to continue my education, yet still nothing. It was clear that I would have to find an alternative high school program or be held behind to graduate. This wasn’t the only issue, next came the question of college. Where would I attend?

After several discussions, my mother and I decided that my best opportunities were back in the United States. So, in September I packed my bags and alone moved back to Utah. I moved in with a close friend’s family in Park City, Utah and re-entered AMES. My counselors and principal worked with me to fit my missing credits so that I would graduate with my original class. Now, I wake up each day with a motivation deep in my soul to do well in school and graduate. This fall I will be attending Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah and plan to major in Environmental Studies. Living away from my family has been tough these past several months, but I know that I have made the right decision. I hope that I will be able to visit my mom and show her the successes I have reached and the new things I have learned as I navigate life more independently. This scholarship would help to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine; to attend college and use my degree to position myself for a successful future. It is with this background I enter the world of education with hopes of a brighter tomorrow.

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