Saad Al Kassab only started learning English two years ago after fleeing the Syrian civil war to come to Australia with his family. This week the 19-year-old graduated at the top of one of the country's largest Catholic schools.
His story is being hailed as an inspiration to the many refugees and immigrants who have come under constant attack from politicians and the media in 2016.
During an awful federal election campaign earlier this year, refugees were characterised as "illiterate" job-stealers by the Australian immigration minister Peter Dutton, while one government MP specifically got assurances Syrian refugees would not be settled in his electorate.
Speaking over Skype, Al Kassab told BuzzFeed News he was saddened by the "illiterate" comments made by Dutton earlier this year.
"It makes me so sad that the wrong picture of refugees and the Syrian people is being sold. It makes me feel sad," he said.
"I just want to say that I was given the opportunity to be able to succeed in my education. All my friends back in Syria now, even the ones in the refugee camps, were as good as me at schooling. They are hard-working students. It makes me sad that the wrong picture of us is being sent across."
Until 2013, Al Kassab lived with his parents and brother Omar in the city of Homs. He said the family had to keep moving from "suburb to suburb" to avoid being bombed by Assad regime forces.
"There was bombing, shelling and arrests, they were the kind of dangers we just ran away from," he said. "My brother was arrested and he was lucky to escape and survive. That was the breaking point for us, the point where we thought, we can’t stay here."
The family came to Australia as refugees, and Al Kassab began watching parliament's Question Time in order to learn English.
“In the parliament they use really persuasive language, the English language," he said. "You’ll get that proper English from there."
He then learned more conversational English by joining a local Scout troop with his older brother.
Al Kassab studied hard and this week graduated as dux of the Catholic Regional College at Sydenham north west of Melbourne, earning a university admissions rank of 96.65.
"I received an ATAR of 96.65, doing chemistry, Arabic, mathematics, specialist maths, physics, English as a second language," he said.
Melbourne's prestigious Monash University has offered Al Kassab a scholarship and he'll likely study medicine in 2017.
Mark Di Stefano is a political editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Mark Di Stefano at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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