From orphanage to ovation: Floyd County graduate celebrates ‘opportunity’

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Published: Jun. 6, 2022 at 6:56 PM EDT
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BETSY LAYNE, Ky. (WYMT) - Conner Lockhart spent the first six years of his life in an orphanage in Russia. Now, a graduate of Betsy Layne High School, the Floyd County academic is using his story to encourage others.

“Due to medical problems and my mom probably being poor, I was abandoned in the hospital. Good thing that was it,” he said. “They could have done more, you know. Abortion or something like that. But I’m glad that I was kept alive.”

At the age of six, after years of meals and holidays with only those at the orphanage, he was introduced to a couple who would soon become his family. Conner was adopted, brought home to Eastern Kentucky, and began his new life with the Lockharts.

“First time I flew on an airplane. First time I, you know, I was given a hug actually. I didn’t think I would like that either,” he laughed. “I was surprised when I got my own bed. That was the first day in America.”

The family kept him grounded in a new reality as he learned the language, customs, and culture he would soon grow to love.

“I didn’t understand anybody for the first couple of months. And I still didn’t know, after I learned the basics of English,” he said. “It was just a lot of learning.”

In all of the learning that followed, he started learning more about himself as he became more connected to the world of STEM. From block coding to programming, he soon found a desire to learn more. So, his family brought him to Betsy Layne High School where he applied for a spot at the Floyd County School of Innovation.

“I was able to do everything I wanted to do about computer science and working with computers. Learning how to 3D print,” he said. “It was a great experience and I wouldn’t change that.”

There, he learned more about the world of technology, gaining the ability to disassemble and rebuild computers, animate video games, and dabble in engineering. With several certifications, he began picturing his future in the world of computer science.

“There was no way I could have been where I am now in Russia. There’s no way at all,” he said. “If it wasn’t for my adoption, I wouldn’t be where I am standing now.”

That focus and his work in school gained him a high ranking in the Class of 2022. He was named salutatorian and asked to give a speech to his class. In that speech, captured by WPRG, he shared his story: overcoming obstacles and taking opportunities head-on.

A moment that cause him to look back at how far he has come over the years, taking nothing for granted as he sees the possible alternatives.

“I would honestly, probably be in the Russian military. So, deployed in Ukraine. I wouldn’t doubt it. Either that, or I would be dead in the streets. Hunger or something like that. Not a good way to live, no. I think about that a lot.”

During his speech last week, Conner challenged the students, after sharing the story of his journey, to see their own stories as steps toward their futures.

“If not for opportunity, do you know where I’d be right now? I would either be on the streets, fighting for my life, or I’d be in a Russian military uniform, fighting in a war I want no part in,” he said. “My challenge to you is to not be embarrassed of your story. Your story makes you unique. Your story allows people to understand you and your imperfections and accept you the way you are. The rest of my challenge to you is to allow opportunities into your life.”

While he has worked to reach his goals, he is now seizing the opportunities to follow a career in Computer IT, with plans to attend Big Sandy Community and Technical College before finishing his Bachelor’s degree at University of the Cumberlands.

“But know my story. Know where I came from and appreciate how far I have come. Know that if an awkward, hyper kid who was abandoned and had little hope of even making it out alive can make it to this stage, you can seize your opportunities,” he said.

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