Lake Norman & Mooresville

West shore teen lives a life transformed

The experience of being "born again" may not be unique to young adolescents, but for 17-year-old Ronnie Kolodziej, it took a very different form.

Because his mother, Dawn, teaches Spanish and French at South Iredell High School, the Westport resident attended that school, where - until the end of his sophomore year - he was, he says, "a truly mediocre student, with mostly C grades. I was more interested in sports than academics. In fact, I was a sports fanatic."

His parents had hoped that he would take more of an interest in school, but nevertheless, they accepted, if somewhat reluctantly, that he was a typical teenage boy.

"I spent a lot of time watching ESPN, time I should have been spending on my schoolwork," he said. "Golf, football, basketball, all controlled my life more than thoughts about my future."

His epiphany occurred at the time his older sister, JanetRose got married.

"After my sister's wedding, I realized that my brother-in-law, an engineer, was a good role model, and I was inspired to be more like him," said Kolodziej.

"It was almost like a born-again experience, except it was not religious," he recalls. "Still, it resulted in a profound change in my personality and the way I looked at life." The transformation began that summer, when he decided that, in order to be more like a true gentleman, he would have to become more literary.

"I went to the Barnes & Noble website to find a list of noteworthy books that I should read. I became an avid reader that summer," he says. Included in his summer reading were such stalwart classics as Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book," and "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte.

"I made it a point to master new vocabulary, to learn unfamiliar words that I came across in my reading. I used flash cards to study the new words." What did he hope to gain from this reading, besides an expanded vocabulary? "I was searching for a greater understanding of myself and my life in general," said Kolodziej.

What happened to the time spent watching sports on ESPN? "I know it sounds crazy, but I quit sports 'cold turkey...'. This has been the reality of my new life."

In addition to his literary pursuits, he became more interested in world events.

"I began following the news more closely, and I developed an interest in politics," he said.

Putting this newfound interest to good use, he organized a club at South Iredell, Student Government in Action.

"It's a kind of mock Congress," he explains, "except that we actually get things accomplished. I'm Speaker of the House. We have roundtable discussions of current world affairs, like the difficulties with Iran, the current economy and the Republican nominating campaign."

As part of his interest in politics, he attended Boys' State at Catawba College at the end of his junior year.

"I was a representative of the American Legion Post in Troutman," he said. "I campaigned for governor of Boys' State, but I lost in the primary."

Becoming involved in school activities was only part of the picture. As a result of his increased focus on academics, the former C student now has a better than 4.0 grade point average, qualifying him for membership in the National Honor Society and the Beta Club, another honor society.

"I'm required to do 40 hours of community service as part of my honor society membership," he says, "so I volunteer at the Shanklin Library in Denver one day a week."

Another area of interest for him is the theater.

"I'm playing the part of Jesus in my school's current production of 'Godspell, Junior,'" said Kolodziej. "It's a one-act version of the original musical."

As for the future, graduation is a mere three months away, and college is a given. "I've been accepted to Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, and I plan to major in English," he says. "I would like to teach English or American Sign Language at the high school or college level."

"Because my father is hearing impaired, he is fluent in ASL, and my mom's a schoolteacher, so I guess I inherited the teaching gene from my parents."