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 ISD

Everman High School
Karime Gutierres-Perez

Godley ISD
Godley High School
Tristan Beha

Birdville ISD
Haltom High School
Chelsi Lam

Richland High School
Matthew Barnett

Birdville High School
Sonya Demaree

Keller ISD

Central High School
Elijah Mhrous

Fossil Ridge High School
Vivian Dinh

Keller High School
Crystal Lerner

Timber Creek High School
Victoria Lee

Azle ISD

Azle High School
Henry Lalonde

Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD

Boswell High School
Kim Bui

Chisholm Trail High School
Reaghan Jones

Saginaw High School
Katelynn Lager

Covenant Classic School

Jonathan Fredricks

Aledo ISD

Aledo High School
Fyn Neeley

Burleson ISD

Burleson High School
Gideon Teer

Centennial High School
Emma Bailey

Burleson Collegiate High School
Prem Patel

Game Development Design School
Estella Fenter

Lake Worth ISD

Lake Worth High School
Diana Avila

White Settlement ISD

Brewer High School
Jay Patel

Uplift Mighty

Grace Ariadna Lopez

Northwest ISD

Byron Nelson High School
Karen Zhou

Eaton High School
Sydney Lopez 

Northwest High School
Elianna Stamps

Grapevine-Colleyville ISD

Colleyville Heritage High School
Ashlyn Wright  

Collegiate Academy
Jonathan Sanchez  

Grapevine High School
Akshaya Mohan

iUniversity Prep
Carina and Carissa Holguin 


L.D. Bell High School
Jackson Boswell

Trinity High School
Paloma Magaña

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)
Lizzy Lopez

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.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.

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Kristen BartonEducation Reporter

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...