When David Duong moved to the U.S., he started sixth grade knowing a handful of English words. Now, the Southwest High School valedictorian hopes to become a diplomat.
On a gloomy, chilly day in March 2016, Duong stepped off a plane from Vietnam into the DFW International Airport. He was in the U.S. for the first time.
Compared to his home country, it was cold for March. He tightened his jacket and started his new life with his mom by his side.
His few words in English: hello, how are you, and goodbye.
Just a few years later on June 1, Duong will graduate as the valedictorian of Southwest High School and will attend Texas Christian University in the fall to study political science with a full ride, thanks to the Community Scholars program.
On the day he was notified of his scholarship, Duong expected to go in for a second interview. Instead, his counselors, teachers and families surprised him with the news that he received a full ride.
“It was overwhelming,” he said.
Duong is a model student being involved, respectful and present in his education, Principal John Engel said.
“He’s one of the kindest, hardest working individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” Engel said. “I’m so excited to see what his future holds. He’s going to be a star.”
A new culture, but keeping old roots
As a child in Vietnam, Duong lived with his grandparents, who got custody of him after his parents’ divorce. His father was an abusive addict.
Neither of his parents finished elementary school, but his mom found work in a nearby city. Duong’s mother used to visit him at his grandparents’ house.
His mother and stepfather moved to the U.S. with some family, and Duong joined them shortly after.
“I remember just being confused,” Duong said. “And being surrounded by a foreign language and people from different places.”
While there are a lot of emergent bilingual students in Fort Worth ISD — 37%, according to the Texas Education Agency — it’s mostly Spanish speakers. Duong recalls only meeting one other person who spoke Vietnamese.
During the day, Duong would carry around a journal with him to write down new English words and how to pronounce them in Vietnamese to help himself practice the language.
As time went on, Duong perfected his English and made friends. He found he enjoyed studying history and how civilizations have changed over time. His history teacher taught him that studying history can help predict the future.
He’s adopted some American culture like independence at 18 when Vietnamese culture is more family-oriented, and children are expected to live with their parents and take care of them, which can cause him and his mother to not always see eye-to-eye.
Though they disagree at times, Duong said his family came to the U.S. to pursue better opportunities, which means pursuing an education and career.
While majoring in political science, Duong wants to have an emphasis on international relations. He hopes to one day be an ambassador and work for the United Nations.
His journey to the U.S. made Duong realize he enjoys learning about new cultures, and he wants to take what he learns about different cultures and see how he can find solutions to issues in various countries.
One of those issues is gun violence, which was probably the biggest shock of American culture for Duong, he said.
“The fact that we are not prioritizing people’s lives, we prioritize an object over thousands of people’s lives who have died from gun violence,” Duong said. “Whenever I look at politics, it’s all, ‘We have to protect the Second Amendment, protect our guns.’ What about the people who are dying every day?”
His time in high school helped him prepare for both college and leadership. He competed in math for the University Interscholastic League academic team, was involved in the chess club, National Honor Society, book club and a manga club.
“I feel grateful that I have received so much help throughout my journey,” he said. “So many teachers went out of their way, if I ever needed anything, they would always be there for me, and my friends and my parents.”
Tarrant County Valedictorians
The Fort Worth Report reached out to the Fort Worth Independent School District and other Tarrant County public school districts for the names of valedictorians. Here are the local valedictorians for those districts that responded:
Everman High School
Godley High School
Haltom High School
Richland High School
Birdville High School
Central High School
Fossil Ridge High School
Keller High School
Timber Creek High School
Azle High School
Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD
Boswell High School
Chisholm Trail High School
Saginaw High School
Covenant Classic School
Aledo High School
Burleson High School
Centennial High School
Burleson Collegiate High School
Game Development Design School
Lake Worth ISD
Lake Worth High School
White Settlement ISD
Brewer High School
Grace Ariadna Lopez
Byron Nelson High School
Eaton High School
Northwest High School
Colleyville Heritage High School
Grapevine High School
Carina and Carissa Holguin
L.D. Bell High School
Trinity High School
KEYS High School Student of the Year 2023
(KEYS High School is an alternative school, and honors a Student of the Year instead of a valedictorian)
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.