Flowing Wells valedictorian Syahmi Ali Mohd remembers walking home from school in third grade, planning out what he’d say from the graduation podium should he grow up to become a valedictorian. And though he eventually achieved the title, Mohd says becoming valedictorian was never a long term goal.
“It’s kind of surreal to think about that now,” Mohd said. “But ‘valedictorian’ has just been me trying my best. I try not to compare myself to other people.”
Despite it not being a lifelong goal, he admits he wasn’t too surprised to become valedictorian, because of his longtime academic achievements, including being in all Advanced Placement classes and being a full math grade ahead of his peers.
“His mom was extremely excited when we called her,” said Flowing Wells principal Jim Brunenkant. “She sounded surprised, but I don’t think she was. But she was very happy.”
Despite his success in the classroom, Mohd also found time for multiple extracurriculars, including soccer, academic decathlon, and Interact club—but he most enjoyed school theater, which he did for multiple years, including roles in multiple musicals.
“I was just happier while doing theater, it made me more optimistic for school,” Mohd said. “For me, theater was a nice escape from the school environment while still being school. It kept my spirits up.”
According to a Flowing Wells release, Mohd’s high scores on the PSAT and ACT (along with his general grades) caught the attention of the national nonprofit Questbridge, which connects “students from low-income backgrounds with leading institutions of higher education.” Ultimately, Mohd landed a full-ride scholarship to Stanford University, his first choice for higher education.
Mohd plans to study bioengineering, but wants to keep his options open, because he also wanted to be a doctor growing up.
“I actually opened up a second-grade time capsule that my mom gave me, and it said I wanted to be a doctor,” Mohd said. “And I thought ‘Wow, I didn’t know I wanted to be one for that long.’ But I do want to keep my options really open. So I’m doing engineering, which my parents encouraged. But if I don’t look as optimistic in the medical field, I can also go into chemical or electrical engineering, and also so I can go into research.”
Mohd received research experience during his multiple years at the Summer Institute on Medical Ignorance at the University of Arizona’s Banner hospital. The program, run in tandem with UA Health Sciences, aims to enrich student education and general health literacy beyond classroom lectures, while also forming relationships between teachers, students and medical professionals.
Although Mohd’s valedictorian dreams date back to elementary school, he doesn’t plan on reciting what he thought of on that walk home from school years ago. He originally planned to mention that moment in third grade, as a kind of meta speech. But he’s opted to speak on deeper parts of his life. After all, as Mohd puts it, he simply wasn’t as thoughtful as an 8-year-old.
“I’m going to talk about being genuine and going out of your comfort zone. If you stay the same person freshman year to senior year, that’s not really a good thing. I think there should be a lot of growth during that time. This is a developmental stage for your mind, body, spirit and personality. It’s a time to gather your beliefs,” Mohd said. “Know when to admit you’re wrong. With society nowadays, there’s a stigma in admitting you’re wrong, like you’re suddenly dumb if you want to ask a question. I say ignore all that. You’ll be so much more liked and open to opportunity if you can say you were wrong.”