SPRING HILL — Veton Krasniqi was 5 years old when he and his family fled their home in Kosovo amid the growing ethnic conflict that engulfed the region in the late 1990s.
Just a day after they escaped, their house outside the capital city of Pristina was bombed and burned down by Serbian military forces under Slobodan Milosevic because of the Krasniqi family's ethnicity and religious preferences.
"We had already known they were coming after us," he said.
Krasniqi, his two younger siblings, parents and grandparents joined hundreds of thousands of other refugees seeking to escape the conflict. They were forced to leave the city and abandon their lives.
It was the beginning of a long journey that took him to America — and was instrumental in shaping the man he is today.
He made the most of his opportunities.
Krasniqi, 20, will graduate today with his associate in arts at Pasco-Hernando Community College — the first person in his family to earn a degree from an American college. He is also the student speaker for the afternoon commencement ceremony at PHCC's West Campus in New Port Richey.
But Krasniqi's dreams don't stop here.
Next semester, he will attend the University of South Florida, where he will go for a bachelor's degree. He plans on majoring in business administration and minor in cyber technology and psychology.
His ultimate goal: become the chief executive officer of Google.
Krasniqi arrived in Tampa in 1999 after doctors from the area helped facilitate a move to this country. At the time, nobody in his family spoke English.
"I felt like I was on another planet," he said.
Krasniqi and his family lived in Tampa for a year before moving to Spring Hill for two years. His family then moved to Grandville, Mich., for eight years after hearing the area had more Kosovars.
"My parents were afraid we'd lose our culture," he said.
His family moved back about five years ago after living in Europe for a short time. He briefly attended Anclote High School in Holiday before finishing up at Central High in Brooksville.
He came to PHCC during the fall of 2011, immediately getting involved in school activities. He's been the treasurer, vice president and president for the Spring Hill campus' student government association and the campus' chapter of business society Phi Beta Lambda.
"My time there has really matured me," he said. "It gave me a great skill set for dealing with issues on the fly."
He said he enjoyed his time in student government and the amount of control placed in the hands of students. He said he's grown as a leader.
Krasniqi says he is grateful for his education — and for the chance to come to the United States.
"If it wasn't for America, we would be dead," he said. "That's not a feeling, it's a fact."
His mother, Kimete "Kim" Krasniqi, said she is extremely proud of her oldest child and his educational growth. He did much of his learning on his own, she said.
"We believe in him," she said. "Whatever he puts his mind to, he can do it."
Danny Valentine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.