By Simon Royal
Ali Wahidi arrived in Australia from Afghanistan without a word of English, but at 17 he has graduated from his Adelaide secondary school as dux by winning the academic prizes in each of his subjects.
“I’m pretty happy with how I’ve gone this year,” the Playford College student said modestly, conceding sibling rivalry played a role in his success.
“There are five of us and I am the youngest. I have to beat everyone, that’s like an expectation,” he said.
His older sister, Gulima, took out Playford’s top prize for academic achievement three years ago and is now nearing completion of a law degree at the University of Adelaide.
Playford is a public school in Adelaide’s northern suburbs, a region which has been hit hard by job losses in manufacturing.
Deputy principal Tim Kloeden said in his seven years at the school he had seen a turnaround from an era when students did not contemplate going on to university.
“It’s true, university was, not that long ago, a distant dream,” he said.
“Kids are now much more ambitious, they are asking a lot more questions and they are, I guess, really striving for bigger dreams.”
“Last year we had 24 kids get into university, this year 30 have put in their preferences so I expect it to get bigger again.”
Mr Kloeden credited students such as the Wahidi family members with helping change the school’s culture and expectations.
“People like Ali, where they’ve come from a background like Afghanistan, the self-discipline that they bring, I reckon that’s rubbed off on a lot of the kids,” he said.
“They understand how to get to a goal and they understand hard work.”
Scholarship allows medical future
Ali is the latest recipient of the Andrew Knox memorial scholarship, an award which honours a South Australian who lost his life in 2001 when the twin towers fell in New York.
The terror attack was conceived in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan — and Ali Wahidi’s family are ethnic Hazaras who, despised and persecuted by the Taliban, fled to Australia seeking a better life.
South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill counted Andrew Knox as a good friend.
“Andrew would be so proud of Ali winning because he was such a strong advocate of social justice,” Mr Weatherill said.
“It is a lovely symmetry to think that, in Andrew’s name, he can make a contribution to making a better life for somebody who’s been fleeing the same sort of terror and persecution that sadly took Andrew’s life.”
Ali plans to use the scholarship toward studying medicine.
And his advice to other students?
“Just work hard. If you work hard then good things will come.”
Source: ABC News