FORT DRUM, N.Y. (June 22, 2017) -- While high school students across the state are breathing a collective sigh of relief this week as testing wraps up and the school year comes to a close, one Fort Drum youth is busy studying for two Regents examinations that she will take in August.

Sixteen-year-old Olga Zubak, who will begin her senior year at Carthage Central High School in the fall, was out of town during the scheduled dates for her French and chemistry Regents examinations this week -- but it was not because she decided to get an early start on her summer vacation.

In May, Zubak was named New York State Military Youth of the Year by the Boys and Girls Club of America. This past weekend, she traveled to New York City to participate in the Northeast regional portion of the competition.

The Youth of the Year competition is a BGCA initiative that began in 1947 as a means to recognize children ages 10-18 who show exceptional ability in the areas of leadership, teamwork, goal-setting and communication. The intent of the program is to encourage youths to develop leadership skills that will benefit them as they continue to learn and grown, and -- in turn -- inspire other youths to work diligently to achieve their goals.

Zubak was required to submit a packet that included her high school transcripts, her responses to questions about her life as a military child and her future goals, and three letters of recommendation. She said that this was the easy part. At the state competition, she was also required to present a prepared speech to a panel of judges.

"I sometimes get nervous about public speaking, and I am very claustrophobic," Zubak said. "I had to write a speech and present it and the room was very small. I got through it, and I felt good because I set a goal and achieved it."

Zubak said that she was beyond happy to learn that she had won at the state level.

"I felt accomplished," she said. "I really did it to challenge myself, and even if I hadn't won, I felt good because I pushed myself to do something that was difficult for me."

Zubak said she has not always been comfortable seeking out challenges.

"I got to Fort Drum in 8th grade and I was really shy," she recalled. "I didn't really talk to a lot of people."

Then Zubak found the Fort Drum Youth Center. She said she immediately felt welcomed by her peers.

"There were so many different people with interesting stories who wanted to talk to me," she said. "It really helped me open up. We all have different experiences, but you can see that we also have things in common."

Soon, Zubak was an active member of the Youth Center's chapter of the Boys and Girls Club of America. She serves as a peer mentor for the "Smart Girls" program and was chosen to serve as vice president of the Youth Center's Keystone Club -- a leadership and community-service program.

"The community does so much for military children," she said. "I think it's really important to be a good citizen. We are the future of America, and I want to do something to benefit others in that future."

Zubak holds a 4.0 grade point average, and she is enrolled in Advanced Placement courses. She participates in tennis and track and field, and she serves as a battalion commander with her school's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps -- a program that she said has helped her to learn about herself as an individual and to develop her leadership abilities.

"In JROTC, you learn something new about yourself every day," she said. "I never considered myself a leader until my instructors made me a battalion commander, but I have grown as a person because of it."

Zubak said that she strives to lead by example.

"I try to show my cadets that it's good to take risks and challenge themselves," she said. "It's easy to grow by yourself. When you can help other people grow, then you all succeed."
After high school, she plans to study biochemistry and lab science. Her dream is to attend Duke University and to become a research scientist, working to identify and develop cures for new diseases.

While Zubak was not selected as the regional Military Youth of the Year, she said that she was grateful to have had the experience, and she enjoyed networking with the other youths who participated.

"I stopped thinking about it as a competition and more as an opportunity to get my message across to both teens and judges. I knew I did the best I could and that was all I could ask for, she said.