One thing most people do not know about the Midlothian Heritage High School valedictorian was that it took him 14 years to finish school.

Sami Joudeh did not necessarily have to repeat the first grade due to grades but to better understand English — his second language.

When Joudeh initially immigrated to the United States from Syria in 2007, he lived in South Carolina for two years and then moved to Midlothian where he attended Longbranch Elementary during third grade.

Joudeh said most people also do not know he resided in a third-world county for seven years. The move to the states was in search of a better quality of life and more opportunities.

"I can see the incredible wealth of opportunity that each of us has here," Joudeh said. "As long as we put in the efforts than the possibility is there — like whatever passion you want here."

Joudeh noted Syria is not the way it is portrayed in the media or on television and that children were raised to be independent. He then noted the 20-minute walk to school he took while there.

"We would walk to school every day and wouldn't ride in cars," he elaborated." Everything was pretty close. Any form of transportation was taxis and what not."

He added, "By walking alone to school every day as a first grader, it demonstrated the difference between what is portrayed by the media of Syria being a dangerous place versus what I experienced when I was there."

He had seen American culture in the movies and learned the language in school, which made the culture shock minimal. He knew he was leaving a tight-knit community.

To witness and recognize the sacrifices his parents made for him fueled his motivation to excel in academics. The theme of his valedictorian speech was that "One should be aware that your greatest accomplishments can actually be those that are unmeasured with numbers and scores. They can be those acts of genuine goodness that can change the world for someone around you, such as my parents' sacrifice for me to have a better future."

Joudeh was heavily involved in UIL academics and competed in ready writing and science. He also played varsity tennis in boys and mixed doubles the first three years of high school. He was a member of the National Honors Society, student council, Midlothian Leadership Council and completed a summer research program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center his junior year.

He studied the physical cycle of fruit flies in a lab under a mentor. In the end, his findings were presented to guests and UT staff. Through the experience, he learned about aspects not directly related to science such as failure and learning from it.

"I found that I really do enjoy discovery in science and it's something that I may want to pursue later in life," Joudeh noted.

Even though his two months of research did not conclude anything significant, he was optimistic about his future.

Joudeh will attend the University of Texas at Austin to study along the science track to obtain a degree in biology. Joudeh plans to dedicate four years at UT and then another four in medical school and then plans to complete his residency.

"At UT, I don't want to just be on the academic track the whole time," Joudeh explained. "It's super diverse there, so I want to give myself the opportunity to expose myself to different cultures."

Joudeh desires to become a doctor and noted the possibility of specializing in pediatrics.

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450