Jon Yap ’99: A Reimagined Future

By Rachel Breitweser ’03

After a body surfing accident paralyzed his arms and legs, Jon Yap ’99 said his life and future outlook dramatically shifted. Although just a high school junior at the time, he had a choice either to succumb to the fear or redefine himself. “Imagine living your life a certain way, and then in a single second – it’s completely different. Everything changes,” Yap said.

Over the next two decades, Yap immersed himself in science, a subject he always enjoyed, but didn’t intently pursue until the accident. His hard-fought journey reached a pivotal milestone earlier this year, when he earned his doctoral degree from the University of Hawai‘i at Ma¯noa in cell and molecular biology. He’s now working at the John A. Burns School of Medicine conducting cardiovascular research. “I didn’t know what getting a Ph.D. would entail; I just knew that it was the pinnacle of academia, and I put myself into the mindset that everything will pan out,” he said. “That’s what I’d like others to get out of my journey – that by navigating the uncertainties of any challenge, we gain a better understanding of what we’re capable of.”

Yap credits the support from others – particularly his mother – for enabling his journey. “After I got hurt, it’s just a whirlwind of emotions – you’re changing from a completely independent lifestyle to one that’s nearly completely dependent on others,” he said. “But my mother was a foundational figure for me. In the early stages of my college education, she was the one driving me back and forth from home to school. Anything I needed help with – she facilitated. I’m thankful for everyone who gave of themselves and made efforts to help me achieve my dreams.”

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