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Losing everything drives teenager to top of class

Reporter: Greg Navarro 丨 CCTV.com

12-18-2016 13:01 BJT

One of Australia’s top high school students this year says, it was losing everything in war-torn Syria that made him so determined to succeed. Saad Alkassab couldn’t speak English when he joined his Melbourne high school just two years ago - but still managed to finish at the top of his class.

Spending the summer as a labourer isn’t an unusual job for a high school student.

But tending to the grounds of Melbourne’s Catholic Regional College Sydenham may not be where you’d expect to find the school’s top student.

Not until you get to know 19-year old Saad Alkassab and his father, and what they endured in Syria before fleeing to Australia.

"We lost actually everything, we lost our sense of life, we felt like dead," said father Abdul Alkassab.

“It felt like hell, it was hell, and now it seems so unreal," said student Saad Alkassab.

Saad’s father and brother were tortured, and his school in Homs was turned into an army base which meant the 19-year old missed two years of school.

“I just felt like I don’t have a future, not going to school made me hopeless - and at the same time put determination in my heart," said Saad Alkassab.

That determination stayed with Saad when he and his family moved to Melbourne in 2014 to start a new life.

When Saad began school here 2 years ago his English, by his own admission, was terrible. He says he learned the language in part, by watching and, more importantly, listening to what took place in Australia’s parliament.

“I mean in parliament they speak slowly and they try to convince you and use the best language they can and they try to get the point across," said Saad Alkassab.

Two years later, Saad says he wasn’t surprised to learn that he had finished year 12 with the school’s highest marks - he actually thought he would do better.

But his father was.

“Frankly he didn’t work hard, that’s why I didn’t expect him to get such as result and I was challenging him for that and I lost that challenge. I promised to give him a car if he got higher than 95 so I lost my car, it’s his now," said father Abdul Alkassab.

Saad’s success goes beyond being naturally gifted.

He’s also driven by his past.

“I have lost so many friends, I’ve lost a member of my family, I’ve lost family members, and I have lost my leaders in scouts - I don’t think I will ever be able to forget," said Saad Alkassab.

Saad says he plans to accept a scholarship to study to become a doctor, and he wants to repay his adopted country for a new start.

All of which helps to explain why this teenager is willing to pick up a rake for the summer, and is so determined to succeed.

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