Valedictorian Gives Speech At School Where Father Works As Custodian

Like father, like daughter. This young woman has brought her father's sacrifices and struggles to a happy end, having secured a place at the prestigious Barnard College this fall.

As a teenager, Biiftu Duresso's father was forced into the work of a soldier in his native Ethiopia. Jamal Abdullahi escaped his war-torn country, as did Biiftu's mother, emigrating to the US in the 1980s. He taught himself to read at the age of 17, earned a bachelor's degree, and put Biiftu through school at an upstate New York institution by working as a custodian at the same.

Under the close watch of a vigilant father, Biiftu excelled academically. Now she's secured her place as the valedictorian of Magnet High School's class of 2015.

In her valedictory speech, she honored her incredible parents.

“My parents Jamal and Zubaida made their way to Rochester, New York from Ethiopia in the 80?s and 90?s. They had the audacity to imagine something better for me and my siblings.”


The Democrat and Chronicle, a daily newspaper serving the greater Rochester area, details the sacrifices Biiftu's father made to provide for his children.

“Since Biiftu and her siblings were born [Jamal] has made his own hard-earned education secondary to their. He wanted to be a teacher; instead, he relishes the chance to encourage Wilson students as a mentor and supporter. Jamal likes his work, humble as it is. He still remembers the date he began: June 10, 1986.”

Abdullahi spoke to the paper, describing his mentorship of Biiftu and her peers at Wilson.

“I tell them, look: I came this hard way through and came out here. It’s very hard. But it didn’t stop me. But if you have foundation, your results must be better than me. Must be better.”

Biiftu will be attending Columbia University's prestigious Barnard College in the fall, which remains the most selective of the remaining American women's colleges, with an acceptance rate of 19.5%.

She plans to go to med school, then return to Ethiopia to start a clinic. 

We expect great things from her.

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