EDGEWATER — In middle school, Ahmed Al-Zubaidi was all about astronomy, and he loved to study the stars and ponder over the universe.
That was before near-death experiences in his home country of Iraq left him with symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which led him and his family to move from the war-torn country to Chicago.
Now the 16-year-old senior at Senn High School has a new passion: heading the school's Republican Club.
Al-Zubaidi, known to his friends as "Max," founded the club at the end of the previous school year with only one other student, but has garnered about 15 members as he heads into the fall.
The club is privately funded through its members and by donations, and Al-Zubaidi said his goal is to have prominent Republican speakers (and sometimes speakers from other political parties) attend the group's meetings.
Overall, Al-Zubaidi said he wanted to engage his community in ways that inspires further political action and debate and hopes to take his Republican Club model to other high schools across the city.
"I have faith in the people; I believe that if we inform them, if we have a debate, I have a very strong feeling they will pick the Republican side," he said. "Our point isn't to harass these people into joining the Republican Club, or to call them out, our goal is to inform them."
Al-Zubaidi, who is Muslim, said though he would like to see his party's presidential nominee, Donald Trump, change some of his foreign policies, he isn't put off by the disparaging remarks made against Muslims by Trump, who called for a ban against Muslims coming to the United States.
In fact, Al-Zubaidi believes he has "never fit in better" with the Republican Party.
"I don't see the criticisms coming toward the Muslim community in general, it's coming towards the policies," he said. "And Donald Trump's idea of supporting more background checks, I absolutely support that. I don't want terrorists in my backyard, or to see the attacks that happened in Munich."
The switch from astronomy and science to politics came after several incidents, like bombings, near-shootings of family members and other horrific events left Al-Zubaidi shaken, he said.
Al-Zubaidi is too young to vote in the 2016 presidential election, but said one day he would like to become a state senator or governor.
"I'm here, talking to a journalist while kids in Iraq are just hoping missiles won't come their way — that was me," Al-Zubaidi said. "And I wish to encourage the same kids that I see now growing up to be active in the community."
His views were also shaped by the fact he comes from a military family, he said, with his father serving in the Special Iraqi Republican Guard unit during the Iran-Iraq war, as well as serving with the Red Cross and later joining the U.S. military in 2004 — even serving with Chris Kyle (the real-life inspiration behind "American Sniper") as a Navy SEAL.
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