There's Value in Trying Something New
Dan Zagorii '23 encourages his peers to lead with curiosity, not judgment. "Be willing to try new things because they can lead you to a better place," says Zagorii, who is in his third year at Mercersburg Academy.
The theatre department drew him to the school, but he found a sense of place in other programs. "I came here for theatre. That's what I wanted to do in college," says Zagorii, whose career plans changed course. "That opened up my eyes to other things."
A native of Ukraine, Zagorii later moved to England with his family. He now lives in Florida.
While applying to boarding schools, he visited several campuses. "It just felt right the second I stepped on the Mercersburg campus," Zagorii says. "I've never regretted my decision. The moment I stepped here, I was like, ‘This is amazing.’ Driving back from the interview, I was like, ‘I really, really want to go there.’ And it worked out that I got accepted, so that's why I'm here."
Previously, Zagorii was attending a school in England on a soccer scholarship. "I was playing goalkeeper, and it was really, really intense. Everybody is very, very good. Everybody fights for a spot on the team. Everybody's hungry to win. The whole culture's around soccer, but I dropped soccer there to do theatre."
At Mercersburg, he worked on the theatre tech crew before joining the soccer team. "When I came here, I dropped theatre to go to soccer, which is ironic, but it just made sense to do."
He says the most challenging lesson he has learned at Mercersburg is how to say no. "I signed up for theatre in my sophomore year, and then I came back and it didn't feel right, so I had to switch to soccer really fast, and that decision was really, really rough. But I think it taught me that by saying no to somebody and trying something new, you can get a lot out of it. I don't think I would have been the person I am right now if I stayed in theatre last year."
Through soccer he has learned how to be a good teammate and has had a lot of fun on the field. "I love playing soccer, and that's my thing," says Zagorii, who plays center back for the Blue Storm. "And then this year has just been a phenomenal experience. I love the team. I love the coaches. I love the way we play. I love the dynamic and the atmosphere on the team."
While Zagorii says he can't pinpoint a top experience at Mercersburg, his friends would probably say his shining moment was going from being in theatre to starting on the soccer team. "That was kind of a breakthrough type thing, and I was very proud of myself for doing that," Zagorii says. "It all started with Irving-Marshall Week in the spring of my sophomore year. Soccer was one of the sports. I played for Marshall, and they played really well. A lot of people saw that. Then other people were talking to me about joining. I've met my best friends on the soccer team, and I think I've made lifelong connections with people there, so it was definitely a good experience."
Mercersburg Head Soccer Coach Peter Kallin says Zagorii "is a great teammate as a varsity, senior leader on the boys soccer team. While he is not a captain, you can certainly rely on him to help out with getting gear, organizing the group for warm-ups, or watching soccer off the field. He approaches most things on and off the field with a smile and a willingness to get better, which is a great coachable asset."
Zagorii also serves as a head Blue Key, two-year dorm prefect, editor for the yearbook, head Burgin Center for the Arts proctor, and was a junior varsity squash captain last year. Blue Keys are school ambassadors, providing campus tours and helping at open houses and admission events. Head Blue Keys assist with planning events as well. "I love being a Blue Key," Zagorii says. "I love to share my Mercersburg story with prospective families."
At Mercersburg, students look out for each other, Zagorii says, even if it's something as small as helping a friend tie a tie for Monday night formal dinners.
Last year, Zagorii was a dorm prefect for 9th-grade boys. "This year I moved to Keil Hall, so now I'm with all seniors," Zagorii says. "Last year I loved being an older brother for the 9th-grade boys. This year I love being a supportive friend to seniors, just to be around them. To look at the college apps and everything, just supporting them, just being around socializing. It's definitely a rewarding experience."
Zagorii has also enjoyed his role as one of the lead editors for the Karux, the school's yearbook. "Last year I wasn't a head editor. It was an after-school-club-once-a-week type thing. It was fun. I worked with great people. This year, it's a lot of work. From about August 30 to October 10, I woke up and went to bed thinking about yearbook and what we have to do for it. There were a lot of things to keep in mind, so it was kind of challenging."
Kacie England, who is a yearbook co-adviser along with Michelle Eichelberger, describes Zagorii as "an incredible leader."
"Dan is co-editor-in-chief with Liza Webb '23, and they do a phenomenal job. They work so well together," says England, a member of the English faculty. She says Zagorii is passionate about producing the best publication the staff can create. "When talking with Dan about his goals this year, he shared with me that this year is ‘all about building relationships.’ And he truly lives this mantra as he cultivates meaningful connections with his staff, peers, and faculty. Dan is totally a kid worth bragging about."
Roots and Wings
This year, Zagorii is taking Advanced Studies Literature and Composition, Honors Third Year Spanish, Calculus III, Advanced Studies Statistics, and Open Topic Springboard. After graduation, he plans to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, a college that specializes in aviation and aerospace.
His career goals changed during the height of COVID-19. He honed his skills in videography when classes were online. Then he became intrigued with flying. "Video was right when we were all stuck at home, and flying went into winter of my sophomore year," says Zagorii, who learned how to fly in Florida. "I got my commercial license in multi-engine this summer. I went to work, flew a Cirrus, which is a single-engine five-seater plane."
He also was able to fly on a private jet as a first officer. To earn a commercial license, a pilot needs to be at least 18. Zagorii is 19. "I didn't make a lot of money like other pilots who are older and more experienced than me, but I still got flying experience, and that's all I was going for, so that was amazing."
As a licensed pilot who is already accepted to and committed to a college, Zagorii plans to advance in his career and enjoy the experience of flying as an undergraduate.
When asked about his favorite class at Mercersburg, he couldn't pick just one. He says both Honors Physics, along with Power, Justice and Authority, a 10th-grade English class, were his most enjoyable classes so far because he "just cared about having the experience."
Zagorii's teacher for Power, Justice and Authority, Frank Betkowski P '19, '21, '23, '24, says, "What I recall best about Dan is his irrepressible enthusiasm. He immediately jumped in with both feet. But isn't that true of everything Dan does?"
Honors Physics "is a standard, first year, algebra-based physics course. We covered motion, forces, work, energy, momentum, rotation, electric charge and force, electric circuits, waves, and sound," says Jim Malone, who notes that "Dan was an excellent student, a lot of fun to work with."
Being part of Mercersburg has been "a rewarding experience," Zagorii says. "The way it makes you think outside of the box, and the way it expands you as a person, as a human being, as a friend, as a student, as an athlete, as everything, as an artist. In my opinion, it just does wonders to who you are, and that's really special."
- Living the Values