At first, Tamica Stubbs didn't know what to think about the two brothers in her biology class.
E.E. Waddell High sophomores Fadi and Ramy Ibrahim were subdued and rarely spoke. They weren't as engaged as most of her other students.
But after grading their first exam, she saw something in them.
"The other students weren't performing as well as them," Stubbs said. "I thought 'Wow, these quiet individuals, they're something special.' "
The Ibrahims received their diplomas Monday morning as part of Waddell High's final senior class. The brothers' walk across the stage represented an international and academic journey spanning two continents.
And for Fadi, it didn't start well.
In 2000, the boys' family moved to Jersey City, N.J., from their native Egypt.
Their parents, Hani Ibrahim and Gihan Salib, wanted their seven children to have more opportunities to succeed. The family was part of the religious minority of Coptic Orthodox Christians, who suffered persecution in the predominantly Muslim country.
In the States, Fadi entered third grade, Ramy entered second, and neither spoke English.
Fadi flunked. His teachers didn't think he cared.
"At the time, I was depressed. I cried so much," Fadi said. "But from that point on, I wanted to do my best."
Fadi, 19, earned the highest grades in the class the following year, and hasn't missed the honor role since.
Ramy, 17, was right there beside him.
The family moved to Indian Trail in Union County when the sons were in eighth grade and attended Porter Ridge Middle School.
They then moved to Charlotte. The boys went to ninth grade at South Meck High, before they moved again, and transferred to Waddell their sophomore year. (Citing budget problems, CMS will close the high school this summer.)
Being in the same grade with many of the same interests afforded the brothers some healthy friction.
They were both stars on the wrestling mat, on the school track and in the weight room.
"Being competitive is a good way to push ourselves to the limits," Ramy says.
"We basically follow in each other's footsteps," Fadi adds.
The push-me-pull-you approach paid off. Fadi is ranked eighth in his class; Ramy, 10th.
Under the tutelage of Stubbs, Waddell's nationally acclaimed faculty member, they both discovered their passions for science.
Stubbs oversaw different clubs for nanoscience, biotechnology, protein modeling, research and robotics.
Between the two of them, the brothers were involved in all of Stubbs' clubs. They attended five professional science conferences around the nation on grant money Stubbs raised, where they shook hands with Nobel laureates and internationally renowned academics.
When working on research, they spent their Saturdays at the school.
This spring, Fadi and Ramy attended the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Los Angeles - "one of the Super Bowls of science and engineering competitions," Stubbs says.
For months, the brothers collaborated on a project that studied the effect of pharmaceuticals and personal care products on aquatic ecosystems. Fadi handled most of the research; Ramy took the lead in the lab.
"Each one used his talents," said their sister, Gouvana, who studies international business at Queens University. "They weren't trying to see who was better than the other. They were just trying to work it out together."
The cooperative approach paid off. The brothers' work so impressed the judges at the regional competition that they won the grand prize and automatically qualified for the international competition.
Meanwhile, it's not as if the brothers spend all their spare time in labs.
Fadi was a reporter for the school newspaper. Ramy did student government and was crowned Prom King.
On weekends, they worked at Salsarita's and Cinnabon at the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport to help the family pay their bills.
"That's how they were raised - to be responsible and to juggle many things at one time," said Salib, their mother, who confessed to "jumping up and screaming" when her sons' names were called at commencement.
"It was their first graduation together. They put a lot of hard work into their senior year, and they deserve all the recognition they get."
This summer the brothers have secured prestigious, well-paying internships at Siemens and Duke Energy, and in the fall they'll both attend UNC Charlotte - rooming together, of course.
They both plan to pursue bachelor's and master's degrees in science.
"They've taken anything and everything they've learned in their life and parlayed all that into grand leadership," said Stubbs.
"It's something amazing ... to witness over the years. All students grow, but for them to grow into leaders and be brothers - that's something special."
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