There are epic stories, and then there are truly epic stories.
A video for Western Sydney University’s “Unlimited” ad campaign profiles one such story — that of Deng Thiak Adut, one of the university’s most extraordinary graduates.
In his case, as you’ll learn, even the word “extraordinary” reeks of inadequacy because … well, this guy’s just indescribably persevering.
Today, Adut is an attorney (solicitor, in Aussie speak) who practices in Blacktown, a suburb west of Sydney. But his path to the courtroom was neither expected nor likely.
Three decades ago, he was just an ordinary kid growing up in Sudan. Then, as it always has and always will, war f*#%ed that all up. Adut, then only 6 years old, was among tens of thousands of children conscripted to fight in the Second Sudanese Civil War.
The troop of boys marched for 33 days into Ethiopia, living off the land along the way, before going into battle against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.
“Kids. Going to war. You know they’re not going to come back because they’re going to put in everything they have. We were slaughtered,” Adut said in an interview with “Models of Achievement,” an Australian documentary series.
At the age of 12, Adut’s life was nearly cut short when he was shot in the back during battle.
A stroke of luck brought a wounded Adut and his brother together. They’d both had enough. With his brother’s help, he was smuggled away from the conflict into Kenya. In a corn sack. In the back of a truck.
The two brothers found relief at a United Nations compound. In time, with even more luck, they were sponsored by an Australian family and granted refuge in Blacktown.
Adut arrived in Australia in 1998 and finally had the chance to start rebuilding his life.
“My first impression was, ‘Wow, I’m going to study. I’m going to finish university.’ But how to get to university was not there,” he said on “Models of Achievement.” “I was not prepared from childhood to the age of 13 to start a formal education.”
In his first two years in Australia, he taught himself English. He supplemented his learning by chatting with locals at a nearby gas station. “This is where I learned early the good English and the bad words,” he said, referring to “bikies,” motorcycle gang members who didn’t always offer the friendliest encounters.
Adut eventually earned his diploma and continued his virtuous march to keep learning.
In 2005, he enrolled in law school. “Studying [for a] law degree was hard. It was even harder because of my background,” he said. But he didn’t give up.
And on the night before his graduation, reflecting on how far he’d come, he cried until he physically couldn’t anymore.
“To be the first person to graduate with a law degree in my family, you can’t call it a privilege. You don’t give it a name.” he said.
Now he wants to help make the journey to a life of safety, dignity, and free will easier for others in his community.
Adut is one of the only — maybe the only — Sudanese lawyer in greater Western Sydney. He’s been lauded for his work supporting Sudanese refugees both in court and in the community.
And he’s a rare ally for a lot of folks in the region because, like in the U.S. and many other places, African Australians face uphill battles every day just because of their skin color — including in the justice system.
Hopefully, after taking in Adut’s story, you can take a step back to consider the bigger picture surrounding this one man. Because to learn, to succeed, and to leave behind a legacy of your choosing shouldn’t — for anyone — be something that’s left to chance.
Watch Western Sydney University’s inspiring profile of Deng Thiak Adut: