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Safwan Ali: One Vanguard’s Vision to Inspire Others


From the age of 8, Safwan Ali knew he wanted to work in public service, even though he couldn’t anticipate all the twists in the road to realizing that dream. It all started when he encountered a friend of his father, who happened to be a sheriff’s deputy.

“After a quick chat, he asked if I’d like to see what he does on a daily basis,” Ali recalled. “He took me in his patrol vehicle and explained to me how people count on him to help during their time of need and the unexplainable feeling of satisfaction he gets by helping others. I will never forget that day.”

At the time, Ali attended a public elementary school in Franklin County. Born in the country of Yemen, he moved to the US at 6 years old and started first grade knowing absolutely no English. He was able to adjust after a couple years, but his new normal wasn’t permanent.

“Unfortunately, I never got the chance to middle school,” he lamented. “Right after fifth grade my family and I moved back to Yemen. I vividly remember that on the first day of sixth grade, as the school bus came to pick me up, I was loading my luggage and leaving for the airport.”

Up for the Challenge

Upon returning to Yemen, Ali found himself in a familiar situation: He knew almost nothing of his new home, its culture, or how to read and write the Arabic language. But he committed himself to learning, and those teenage years proved formative.

“Within one year, I was able to read, write, and speak fluently. Those years helped me gain a better understanding and appreciation for all of the opportunities and blessings that I have,” he shared. “That [experience] also helped me realize that my potentials are as far as I’m willing to challenge them.”

Ali moved back to the United States in 2011 at age 17 and discovered a new challenge. While he did attend school in Yemen, the country’s education standards didn’t match those in this country, so he couldn’t simply resume his American education. Too old to start high school and too young for college, the best option available to him was to take his GED exam. Fortunately for him, VGCC was there to help.

“I decided to take my exam at Vance-Granville Community College and earned it in record time, within approximately two weeks,” he recounted. “I took my diploma and went straight to college.”

Throughout his teenage years, Ali had contemplated the best way to make a difference in the world around him. He wanted to help people much like the deputy from his childhood had, but he wanted to do so on a greater scale. Before he started college, he had decided to be an attorney, fighting injustice in whatever form it takes and being a voice for the voiceless. Once again, VGCC was the perfect fit. “Just as I started pursuing an associate’s degree, VGCC launched the Paralegal Technology program. It was a no-brainer for me. I was one of the first to enroll and part of the first class to graduate,” Ali said.

“We All Have a Story”

The next twist in Ali’s journey almost seemed too perfect to be true. “Just as I started planning to pursue a bachelor’s degree, VGCC launched its Eagle Voyage program. Talk about luck.”

Launched in fall 2017, Eagle Voyage is a partnership between VGCC and North Carolina Central University. It empowers students to earn their bachelor’s degree from NCCU with the convenience of taking classes on VGCC’s Main Campus. Criminal Justice was the very first program available through this partnership, and it was just what Ali wanted. He transferred to NCCU and thrived just as he had at VGCC. After earning his bachelor’s degree from NCCU in 2019 (with a perfect 4.0 GPA, he’d like to add), he stayed at that institution and earned his doctorate in law, graduating May 2022.

When VGCC first reached out to Ali to tell his story, he was working at a law firm in Durham and studying for the bar exam. By the time this story was published, he had officially been admitted as an attorney to the New Jersey Bar by the Supreme Court of that state. For the time being, he continues working in Durham with a focus on immigration law. Now a husband and father of two, his motivation to succeed is not to brag about himself but to lead by example.

“I hope that the purpose of this is not to showcase my accomplishments,” clarified Ali. “We all struggle in one way or another. It’s up to us individually to decide whether the struggle we endure is used as an excuse for why we aren’t where we want to be or as fuel to get us there.”

VGCC graduate Safwan Ali