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Wah Wah Diamond

First-Generation GateWay Student Turns Challenging Past into Brighter Future

For many first-generation students, attending college has its challenges. But for Wah Wah Diamond, those challenges paled in comparison to his life before finding GateWay.

Growing up in Burma, he was forced to flee his village after the Burmese military destroyed the area his family was living. Surviving by hiding in the jungle and walking day after day became common place for the young five-year-old. Eventually, his family found safety in a refugee camp in Thailand and were able to live there for ten years, but struggled to find clean drinking water and enough food.

For most, surviving would be enough. For Diamond, he dreamed that one day he could find a way to help people who are suffering by providing them healthcare.

“I saw many people who were sick and died in the refugee camp because they did not have access to professional health care. It made me incredibly sad. At that time, I never thought about the opportunity to come to America,” said Diamond.

After emigrating from the refugee camp in Thailand to Arizona, he faced many challenges adjusting to his new life in the U.S., especially learning a new language. But he never gave up, and when he found GateWay, it all started coming together.

“I always knew that I wanted to work with people to maintain a healthy lifestyle. When I found out about the Physical Therapy Assisting (PTA) program, I knew it was what I wanted for my future career,” said Diamond. 

As he set off on his new path, GateWay’s faculty and staff stayed with him every step of the way. “The PTA faculty are the most helpful and understanding professors I have had in my college experience. I feel that the teachers are not just providing education, they care about me as a student and they want me to be successful in life,” said Diamond.

This May, Diamond will be the featured student speaker at GateWay Community College’s 52nd commencement, an achievement that seemed nearly impossible as a young boy hiding in the jungle.

“As a first-generation college student growing up not knowing English, the PTA program was extremely difficult for me, and I was tempted to give up many times. During my time in college, I have experienced embarrassment, fear, reluctance, and uncertainty because of my language hurdles, but I also have experienced great triumphs as well.  I have learned to take risks and keep learning by not making excuses, regardless of the disadvantages from my past,” said Diamond.

After completing the PTA program, he will move on to what his initial goal was; helping others by providing them healthcare. 

“Everyone suffers in life, and I believe if we all help one another with our skills and knowledge, this world will be a much better place. I want to be able to help others, as I have been helped and supported throughout my life. I am convinced physical therapy will help me accomplish my dreams and goals,” said Diamond.

A challenging past certainly turned into a bright future.

To learn more about the Physical Therapy Assisting program or any of the 160+ programs at GateWay Community College, please visit: gatewaycc.edu/degrees-certificates/physical-therapy-assisting.