Michael Pham attends Jesse Bethel High School in Vallejo. This fall he will attend UC Berkeley, majoring in public health and pre-med studies.
Michael has cerebral palsy. He's a top student now but when he first got to high school, he was placed in a special education class. He had to fight to get out. Michael says he wanted "to be in regular classes just like every other student despite my disability."
Eventually, supportive teachers and counselors helped him get into mainstream classes. By junior year, he was in rigorous advanced placement courses and doing well.
Michael also faced a big challenge with many fellow students. He was teased a lot, but he did not get discouraged. Michael says, "I just use that as a motivation and just to prove people wrong, that I can do anything in life. Disabled people are not useless."
Michael became president of the Best Buddies Club, promoting friendship between disabled and able-bodied students. He loved seeing that through the club disabled students "have a friend that they can always rely on to talk to and just be themselves, and not have to worry if they are handicapped or disabled."
But Michael was just getting started. There is hardly a high school club or organization Michael hasn't joined in order to benefit his local community as well as his fellow students.
One of his most high-profile roles is student representative for the Vallejo School Board. District Superintendent Ramona Bishop says Michael has "So much energy! The board loves him. He gives us updates about what's going on not only at the school, but for him personally as one of our best and brightest ambassadors."
Michael has survived a lot of hardship, including six major surgeries. He's one of seven children and his family has stood by him all the way. Now he says, "I just want to give back and make them proud."
One way he's doing that is with the Interact Club, a high school version of Rotary Club. Students do all kinds of community service from toy drives to trash pick-up. Michael is president of his chapter and he's had a big impact. The club started with only 40 members and is now up to 120.
Clint Manalili is the Interact Club Advisor. He says, "Michael is like a sponge. He just wants to learn new things. And he just wants to keep interacting and finding out new ways to do possible things the best way to do it."
At his last Interact Club meeting, Michael said goodbye to his huge volunteer team and thanked them for making the city of Vallejo proud. He added, "We give back to the community. We do not do it for the fanfare, because my philosophy is that volunteering is about having fun and at the end of the day, it feels good to be able to give back."
Congratulations Michael Pham, ABC7 Top Scholar!
Join ABC7 on Sunday, June 30, at 3 p.m. for a special on all seven of this year's Top Scholars.