Sam Wu didn’t come to the U.S. from China until he was 8 years old. Yet 10 years later he still managed to zoom to the top of his class at Mary Persons High School.
If he gets to address his classmates at a graduation ceremony on July 31, his theme will be simple.
“I plan on doing something about thanking the country, God and the people of Monroe County for giving me this chance to achieve what I have,” said Wu.
Wu started life in a rural village on the southeast coast of China and did not begin to learn English until he was 8, which makes his 720 (out of a possible 800) score on the verbal portion of the SAT even more impressive.
Wu said his family came to America seeking a better life. His father, Frank Wu, only attended elementary school, leaving school to help support his family by working in agriculture. His mother, Jean Wu, attended middle school, but her family didn’t have the financial means for her to continue her education. As Wu learned English he was able to help his parents by translating for them.
“I thank my parents for instilling in me want-to to go further than they have,” he said.
Wu said the school he attended in rural China was behind in technology; the major teaching tools were chalkboards.
“It was a quaint life but a pleasant life,” he said.
A love of the rural lifestyle was what brought Wu’s family from Kathleen in Houston County to Monroe County, where they have a countryside with life more like it is in rural China. Wu has two younger brothers, ages 7 and 5 and a 3-year-old sister, and he and his parents feel it is a safe place for them to grow up.
Of course, Wu’s senior year hasn’t gone as they had expected with the coronavirus closing schools. Sam still excelled but he did not like the online classes.
“I prefer the traditional classroom,” said Sam.
He also prefers not to give speeches, but if he’s in the top of the class he’ll do his duty. How would it feel to come from another country and finish at the top of his class?
“It would be an honor,” said Sam. “I’ve worked hard for my grades and it’s an honor and privilege to see it pay off.”
Sam said when he first got to the U.S. it was a heavy challenge because of the language barrier. He said he only got through that thanks to divine providence.
“I thank God for helping me get through the language barrier to what I can achieve today,” said Sam. He said his faith has helped him through everything he’s done.
“A lot of times when I had a difficult situation, such as moving here during my freshman here and having to leave all my friends and former colleagues behind, I thank God that everything turned out fabulously,” said Sam. “I met new friends and accomplished a lot here.”
Sam plans to attend Georgia Tech in August and he hopes the coronavirus ebbs so classes are in person and not online
Sam was also Mary Persons’ 2020 STAR student. He earned the honor by being in the top 10 percent of his class, maintaining good character and scoring the highest of all his classmates on the SAT college boards, 1490 with 770 in math and 720 on the language arts portion of the test.
Wu’s focus on academics and his family responsibilities haven’t allowed much time for extracurricular activities, but he is a member of FBLA and Beta Club. He won first place at the 2018 Beta Club Convention in Savannah in Visual Arts Sculpture for an original swan. He said he has enjoyed participation in Beta Club because its emphasis on community service has let him become better acquainted with the Forsyth community and see its needs.
Wu plans to major in biomedical engineering with the intention of pursuing a career researching cancer and other diseases. He said he has a friend who has neuroblastoma, and it has hindered what he wants to do in life.
“I want to prevent that,” said Wu.
Sam hasn’t been able to return to China to visit since he left as a child. He had hoped to visit this summer but thinks that will not be possible now because of the coronavirus. His father’s parents were able to join Wu’s family in the U.S. this past year; his mother’s parents had come earlier because they have other relatives in the U.S. His grandparents help care for his siblings.
Wu has worked full-time during the summers as a server at various Chinese restaurants. He said his school work and helping his family have taken priority over a social life, and he describes himself as an introvert who prefers to stay home anyway.
However, he is very excited about the opportunities for new friends and new adventures as well as for learning that await him as he begins college next year. He is eager to meet some different challenges.
“I know the person I am today will stay the same. The lessons and morals that have helped build my character will stay with me throughout life,” said Wu. “I most thank God for the opportunity to be here today and be the person I am. But college will help me in my contribution to society, my purpose in life. It’s fascinating, scary, enjoyable.”
Asked if he’ll return to Forsyth after he cures cancer, Sam said he won’t forget his adopted hometown.
“I’ll always come back to Forsyth,” said Sam. “I enjoy the country more than the city.”