Derrick Goodrich is an injured war veteran who arrived at The University of Arizona intending to influence foreign policy one day.
At the age of 16, Binh Duong was sent by her parents from Vietnam to study in the United States.
Both have received the Honors College's "Dean's Award for Excellence." Patricia MacCorquodale, the college's dean, grants the award to outstanding students, and it has only been awarded six times since the college's inception in 1999.
The University of Arizona on Saturday will confer degrees upon its graduating students, including 285 students graduating with Honors from the UA's Honors College. These students have completed approximately one-quarter of their degree requirements in Honors classes, achieved a 3.5 or better cumulative grade point average, and completed an Honors thesis or equivalent capstone project in their major.
"I give the Dean's Award for Excellence to a student who has an exceptional motivation for their own and others' success, has a demonstrated commitment and leadership in community service, and exceptional courage in the face of uncommon challenges," MacCorquodale said.
"These are important dimensions of the Honors College mission, but these students, in their lives, have amazing experiences that far exceed those of most graduating seniors," she added.
Goodrich and Duong are also part of a class of 285 graduating Honors College students -- the largest class to graduate in the college's history.
Duong is graduating with a degree in materials science and engineering and Goodrich has earned a degree in political science.
Goodrich took an interest in political and international affairs during his younger years, having spent a good deal of time in debate with his grandfather and uncle over topics such as the bombings in Afghanistan and Sudan, the Clinton years and the no-fly zone enforcement in Iraq.
Then, in 1999, Goodrich chose to enlist in the U.S. Army, but his service ended abruptly in 2004.
While in Iraq, his hip was shattered by gunfire that also hit his sciatic nerve -- the largest nerve in the body. The injury required total hip replacement and caused paralysis in his lower left leg. He completed therapy, moved to Tucson and began studying at Pima Community College before transferring to the UA in 2006.
Goodrich, who also is completing coursework in Near Eastern studies, is the recipient of the competitive Diplomatic and Consular Officers Retired Foundation Graduate Fellowship, which comes with $12,500 toward his master's degree in international relations. He opted to study at the University of Chicago.
The foundation's goals is to encourage students to pursue government positions, namely as foreign service officers.
Each year, students from about 10 universities are encouraged to apply for the fellowship program. Students must be nominated by their universities and each is interviewed by the foundation, which then chooses one student per school. This year, students applied from schools that included Georgetown University and John Hopkins University.
Last year, Goodrich was among a group of 13 people selected to represent the United States in Crete, Greece, during the International Institute for Political and Economic Studies' summer program. The program was created by The Fund for American Studies, based in Washington, D.C., to educate students in various countries about the historical and current conflicts in the region and what they, as young leaders, can do to help find solutions.
"He's obviously a talented student and an excellent student," Walter said. But that's not enough to earn the fellowship, she added.
"I think part of why they selected him was that, in addition to his academic excellence, he's got a clear sense of where he's headed and why he's headed there," she said. "He's the first in his family to go this far with his education, has served in the military, and with his own experience, having been wounded and using it as motivation, really impressed the committee."
To Goodrich, it will be especially important to complete his master's degree. He believes that misperceptions influence foreign policy in the Middle East and wants to work on government relations that affect the region.
"I don't want to just study these things. I want to inform policy makers and government officials," he said, adding that he believes "our military strength is not to stand at the forefront of our international posture."
It should instead be about "our ability to aid countries struggling through disease and extreme poverty," he added.
That relies upon creative thinking, especially in the areas of foreign aid and international policy, which should always be about helping countries to be self-sufficient, not dependent, Goodrich said.
He would like the United States to "tone down the rhetoric about spreading democracy" around the world and promote global diplomacy.
Goodrich said: "It's not that the United States is the boogeyman, but the nation has a lot of potential to do more good than it has, and I would like us to live up to that."
Binh Duong's determination, scholarly excellence and the inspiration of her parents took her out of Vietnam and landed her with a one-year opportunity to study in the United States as an exchange student.
She was 16 at the time.
Duong took that one-year opportunity and continued to excel despite the disappearance and jailing of her father and the despondency of her mother, who moved to the U.S to seek political asylum.
Her parents instilled in her a commitment to education and a broad world view, and broke the Vietnamese custom of making her follow in the path of her brother, who had chosen to study in France.
"I had studied English in school and thought if I could study in the U.S. I could build my language skills and benefit from the American educational system," Duong said. "I don't know why I thought I would be able to live that far away from home because in Vietnam I rarely even left the house."
Duong attended Catalina High School for one year and lived with the Dao family, her host family, who saw her academic potential and encouraged her to pursue higher education goals.
Eventually, she completed the Test of English as a Foresgn Language exam and her test run at the SAT's landed her with a partial scholarship to Northern Arizona University before she had even earned a high school diploma.
She attended NAU for a year and, while there, learned about her father's disappearance and arrest.
Duong was depressed and stressed and didn't know where to turn.
With the help of a counselor, she completed the paperwork for political asylum and was able to bring her mother to live with her in the U.S.
That move has brought Duong peace of mind. She transferred to the UA when she realized she wanted to earn a degree in materials science and engineering.
"I started with a degree in chemistry but I had always been intrigued by my father's ability to make laterns for us to play with out of wasted materials left from the Moon Festival in Vietnam," she said.
Her father's whereabouts and status are still unknown, but Duong remains focused and upbeat and smiles often. Most of her family now lives in Arizona, including her brother, who is now studying at NAU.
Duong excels academically, putting more than her share of time into group projects, spending long hours in the lab to learn research techniques and even builds Web pages for courses in her major to help others learn the material. She is appreciative of the research opportunities the UA offers.
She is thankful for her parents' determination, the Dao family and their encouragement, the Honors College for its grants and its opportunities for research, and the support of her UA professors.
Duong's pursuit of higher education goals continues; she will be pursuing a doctoral degree in materials science and engineering at the UA in the fall.
"I want to teach," she said. "Good teachers inspire others."