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 Mānoa 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.”