Imagine moving to the United States from Haiti and enrolling in high school in 10th grade. You’re a year behind the other kids already, and they don’t have to deal with all that intense culture shock. Not to mention this major handicap: you don’t speak a word of English.
"That was really hard, that was really hard, I spent all my nights, all my days learning English,” said Bendji Fleuridor, a senior at Deerfield Beach High School.
The Latin phrase "carpe diem" was coined for kids like Bendji. He seized the opportunity of being in this country and excelled. In every class.
“I only had straight A’s, straight A’s, no B’s, no C’s, straight A’s, even though I didn’t speak English, because I study everything,” Bendji said. “I started taking honors classes, AP classes, and everything.”
The first teacher he had recognized right away that he had a genius-level kid in his class, a student who combined inspiration with perspiration.
“He's a rare kid,” said Frantz Edouard, the math teacher who saw Bendji’s potential. “As smart as he is, his work ethic is one reason he’s so successful because he will not go into a test, not go into an exam without preparation.”
All the intense studying and preparation has paid off. Bendji earned a full academic scholarship to Florida Atlantic University, but he’s not content to succeed on his own, he’s trying to pull his classmates along, too.
"He always here to empower us, give us more strength to go forward,” said Magdaelle Papin, one of many Haitian-immigrant peers who goes to tutoring sessions given by Bendji. “He always inspires us to do our best.”
That’s how he spends his spare time. You’ll find Bendji after school helping classmates understand math and other subjects, and it’s not just the Creole-speaking kids. Bendji has a global vision to help his immigrant peers.
“That is from my heart, because I know when I first came here, that was really hard for me, it was really harsh,” Bendji says, laughing as he recalls his sophomore year. “You know how long it took me to know one sentence in English? That was really hard!"
So now it’s on to Spanish?
"He’s trying to learn Spanish just to help the Spanish kids,” said Taglionie Valeus, one of Bendji’s classmates.
Science is a universal language. On the day we visited, Bendji was with a group of students shooting off water rockets, and Bendji was teaching them how to calculate the height of each launch.
He’s already shooting for the moon, planning on majoring in engineering, while staying grounded in his community.
"I'm really, really satisfied, even when I go off to college I’m still gonna come back, I’m coming back just to help them,” Bendji said.