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Tony Wan

College: York College
Awards: York College Valedictorian Is Iraq War Veteran, 2012

York College Valedictorian Is Iraq War Veteran

Tony Wan, York College's 2012 valedictorian, served two tours of duty in Iraq as a U.S. Marine. There will be at least seven other veterans graduating with him.

Wan, who was born in Belize to Chinese immigrants, came to the United States when he was 3. As one of York's undergraduate researchers, he wanted to get his degree in three years and move on to medical school since his military service had deferred his college dream by four years. He is the first member of his family to go to college.

At 25, Wan, a chemistry major, is graduating with a 3.99 grade point average and says York's professors and counselors have been a key to his academic success.

"I came here for the physician assistant program," he says. "While I was still in the military, I came home to check out schools. I went to St. John's and to York, and when I got to York, the first person I saw was Dr. Emmanuel Chang. He was doing something else, and he dropped that to help me. I knew this was where I wanted to be."

And it has served him well.

"It's ironic," says Wan, who graduated from Benjamin Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens. "It took me three tries to pass chemistry in high school, and now I will be applying to medical school after majoring in chemistry at York."

Wan is partial to the medical programs at SUNY Downstate Medical and Stony Brook University. Though he bears no physical evidence of his Iraq experience, he says he did sustain concussions and that such injuries can manifest themselves in potentially fatal ways later on.

He plans to pursue a concentration in neurology to help veterans and others with neurological disorders. His war experience included the loss one of his best friends. It was then that he promised "not to let any more Marines die on my watch."

To this end, he sometimes got out of the convoy and walked on his hands and knees looking for explosives in the path. Wan has come full circle. He joined the Marines, where he reached the rank of corporal, to fund his college education because he didn't want to burden his parents with paying for two children's education.