In 2013, Saad Al-Kassab and his family found themselves in the epicenter of the Syrian Civil War. Originally from Homs, which had been under siege for years, the young student had to study at home with his mother and travel to makeshift exam centers while dodging mortars and airstrikes.
Eventually, Saad's father decided that the family needed to leave Syria and they were given refugee status after arriving in Australia in June 2014. His family didn't know any English, and Saad learned what he could from watching television.
But this week he found out that he'd beaten hundreds of other students to get the best exam marks at one of Australia's largest Catholic high schools. The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank is a score from 30 to 99.95 which universities look at when accepting students. Saad got 96.65, with the average score in 2014 being 68.95. What a remarkable achievement for someone who just a few years prior was focused on staying alive in an incredibly dangerous situation.
As the best performing student in his entire school, Saad has been offered a scholarship at Monash University, and hopes to study biomedicine. Saad was understandably very happy with his results, telling ABC:
"To be honest, I was expecting a high score, but it felt so good to see it. I felt really happy. I was just overwhelmed."
"I think the hardest part was getting into school. The community was lovely with me."
"I'm really grateful for being given the opportunity to be able to come to Australia and study here. Despite all the difficulties, I was given a new life. I really wish I can pay it back one day."
Saad said that he watched televised debates in Australian parliament to develop his comprehension, which speaks volumes.
"The way they speak, they speak proper English. They speak slowly, so you can catch words," he said.