Aron Yichye knows what it’s like to struggle financially. He is all too familiar with how it feels to suddenly lose someone you love dearly. He was the new kid in school, learning a new city, making new friends and building a new comfort zone.
Any of these alone would have been traumatic and life-changing for someone. Aron, however, is 17 years old and takes it all in stride.
What the public sees is Aron’s high achievements to become one of the area’s most notable graduates of the Class of 2021. He graduated in May with a 3.85 grade point average, earned at least $12,500 in college scholarships and is already a private pilot. He comes across as calm, organized and driven.
“He’s very, very disciplined, very focused,” said Mike Zidziunas, president of the Lakeland Aero Club, where Aron served as vice president the last 12 months. It is the largest student flying club in the United States.
Five years ago, Aron’s parents uprooted their family from their longtime home in New Jersey to move to Florida to nurture their eight-grader’s fascination with aviation. After researching a couple of aviation high schools throughout the country, they determined that Central Florida Aerospace Academy, located at the Lakeland Linder International Airport, offered the course options that Aron wanted.
His love of aerospace was solidified at a Young Eagle camp, where it was his turn to take a Young Eagle Flight. “I knew it was make it or break it,” Aron said. “I flew and I loved it.”
“I’ve always loved aviation as far as I can remember,” said Aron, describing himself as a “huge aviation nerd.” “Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to fly. It was very clear to me.”
His entire family – including his college-age sister – was supportive of relocating.
“It was pretty unanimous,” said Aron. “The general idea was scary because it was such a big leap, but there wasn’t anywhere (in New Jersey) to have an outlet for that type of stuff to learn.”
Zidziunas said he’s known of a couple of other families who have relocated to allow their teen to attend Central Florida Aerospace Academy, but none who came as great a distance as the Yichyes. Polk County Public Schools officials are impressed with Aron’s resilience and talent.
“We’ve worked hard to establish a lineup of career academies that appeal to students’ interests and prepare them for life after graduation,” said Steven Cochran, senior director of workforce education for Polk County Public Schools. “We are thrilled that Aron and his family found a ‘home’ at Central Florida Aerospace Academy. It’s a fairly unique and dynamic program that has produced many successful graduates.”
At Sleepy Hill Middle School in North Lakeland, which offers a pre-aviation study track, he easily finished eighth grade with a 4.0 GPA. He then transitioned to Central Florida Aerospace Academy, where he was more challenged academically.
During this past year, as students maneuvered through pandemic protocols, Aron also experienced a profound loss when his 64-year-old father contracted COVID-19 and died from complications of the virus in December 2020.
“He was the strongest guy,” Aron said of his father. An observant Jew, Aron had several conversations with his Dad over the years that helped him accept his father’s passing. “My Dad was always telling me, when it’s your time, it’s your time. My Dad would talk about God’s plan, and I have that same kind of philosophy in my head. I didn’t want him to be in pain.”
Aron’s next steps include flying with other Aero Club members to Oshkosh, Wis., for the world’s largest annual fly-in and exposition and settling in as a first-year student at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne in the fall.
For Aron, becoming a pilot is about more than fulfilling his passion.
“My family has lived just above or below the poverty line, so I knew I needed a career that in some way would help my family. It needed to be a career that first, did not cause me to be a burden on them and second, could help them.”