MHCC graduate and Cuba native Tuan Anh Tran Caraballo will study pre-med at Stanford University this fall with an almost full ride

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - A Havana native, Tuan Anh Tran Caraballo applied to six Ivy League schools his last year at Mt. Hood Community College.

When Tuan Anh Tran Caraballo was 10, his best friend Randy died from leukemia.

Tuan was a shy boy, and Randy had always been the outgoing one who looked out for him.

“This was hard for me to accept, but it became my inspiration to pursue the medical field,” Tuan said.

Fueled by his childhood dream to become a pediatrician, Tuan moved to the United States from Cuba in October 2010.

Tuan was among the 1,200 Mt. Hood Community College students who graduated Saturday, June 16, and he will study biology with an almost full-ride scholarship to Stanford University this fall. He eventually plans to apply to medical school.

“My dad used to say, ‘You’re short, but you’re going to make a difference with your brain,’” Tuan said. “There are many people who are very smart and have more financial abilities than I do, but while money and intelligence play important factors, they don’t get you very far. It’s about hard work, enthusiasm and determination.”

In Cuba, studying medicine and becoming a doctor can lock up a student’s future. After watching a family member face immense unhappiness as doctor in Havana, Tuan was determined to seek political asylum in the United States and pursue his studies at Mt. Hood.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - 'The meaning of success is being happy, and that starts right now,' Tuan says as his life philosophy.

Tuan came to Oregon by way of Mexico and Florida. During his time in Mexico, a police officer pulled Tuan over and took most of the $900 he was traveling with, leaving him with $150.

“When I crossed the border and saw the American flag, I couldn’t believe it,” Tuan said. “It was difficult to get to this country.”

But finally, he made it to Mt. Hood Community College — to his beloved girlfriend (now fiancee), Cinthia, who had moved with her father to the Gresham area.

The couple met in high school, and Cinthia had been at Tuan’s side during the hardest moments of his life. One of the most trying moments was when he received a scholarship to attend school in Vietnam (his father’s home country) but had to turn it down to fulfill mandatory Cuban military service for a year and a half.

Coming to the United States without his family’s emotional support was a struggle, but Tuan had dreamed of attended an Ivy League university since he was a child. A year into his studies at Mt. Hood, Tuan’s brother joined him.

Tuan began with ESL courses, speaking basic English, before delving into his coursework for an associate degree in science.

This past year, Tuan dedicated himself to applying to six prestigious schools — Brown, Cornell, Harvard, Johns Hopkins University, Stanford and Yale. He was also working at Mt. Hood as a science tutor and at Home Depot across the street.

“He could be in the depths of writing some really intense essays — more in depth than I could have ever imagined — but no matter what’s going on with Tuan, he never walks through the door without a smile on his face,” said Nicci Harwood, a TRiO adviser at Mt. Hood.

TRiO is a federally funded support program at the college that Tuan credits with helping him tremendously. The program is geared toward low-income or first-generation college students or students with disabilities who want to pursue education at a four-year university.

Of the 1,512 students who applied to Stanford as transfer students, only 34 were accepted, or 2.2 percent.

“I feel very excited,” Tuan said. “I can’t wait to go there, and I’m extremely happy my hard work and advisers’ hard work paid off. It’s not only my accomplishment. It’s the result of all the people supporting me since I began at Mt. Hood — they hold a piece of my acceptance to Stanford. Being thankful and showing gratitude is the least one can do.”

Tuan also credits his parents for their support and will see them this summer for the first time in three years after being approved for a visa.

“My dad and mom don’t have college degrees, but I feel like they do,” Tuan said. “They built the study habits and dedication in me. But putting hard work to goals doesn’t mean giving up one’s personal life. Life is beautiful, and everything deserves some time — school, work, family, friends, helping the community.

“The meaning of success is being happy, and that starts right now.”

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