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Earthquake survivor overcomes tragedy to embark on a new life as a student at city university.
Dong Jun / SHINE

He Yuxuan shows his admission letter at Jiao Tong at the weekend.

Second grader He Yuxuan of the Qiang ethnic minority group was having class on May 12, 2008 when the earthquake hit Wenchuan County, southwest China’s Sichuan Province, killing more than 80,000 people and rendering millions homeless.

His classroom was near the playground and his teacher reacted quickly, guiding most of his classmates outside safely. In the mayhem, he was reunited with some of his relatives in a victim settlement but his parents could not be found, and 20 days later were pronounced dead.

He was raised by his grandparents, who are now both in their 70s and in poor health.

For 10 years, he has studied hard and got 641/750 in his college entrance exam. As a member of an ethnic minority he had 20 extra points added to his score, ensuring he was admitted into Shanghai Jiao Tong University, one of the most prestigious in China. His major is conservation and environmental ecology.

“Having lived in a remote area for their whole lives, my grandparents had never even heard of the university,” He said.

“They thought I was going to be a traffic cop as jiaotong means traffic in Chinese. It took me several days to convince them that it is also a good university.”

He said his uncle had encouraged him to get into a good university and to eventually get a doctoral degree. “My younger uncle himself has a doctorate and teaches at a university in Chengdu. And my cousin also has a PhD. I hope to be the third in the family.”

As his grandparents are too old and infirm to travel, he went alone to Changzhou in Jiangsu Province, to his uncle’s home before heading to the university, which has a program to help over 200 impoverished students like He, to familiarize themselves with the campus and university life.

“I have called my grandparents several times. They always tell me not to worry about them and take good care of myself,” he said.


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