Springfield High graduate Dylan Tan, 18, wears a T-shirt given to him after being accepted into Harvard. His family moved to the United States from Malaysia.
Most elementary students’ idea of fun isn’t a trip to the library, particularly when they have to make the six-mile round trip by foot.
But that’s exactly what recent Springfield High School graduate Dylan Tan did when he didn’t have cable TV or a computer at home, and his family did not have a car.
Perhaps it’s no surprise he would eventually land at Harvard University on a full-ride scholarship.
He will be the first Springfield graduate to attend the Ivy League institution when he enrolls in August, his high school principal, Steve Gwin, said.
“[Dylan is a] very humble student and very easy to approach,” Mr. Gwin said. “A role model for other kids. Very sociable kid.”
He wasn’t always sociable. His family moved to America from Malaysia when he was in third grade because his father, Alfred, wanted to further his studies in accounting. The language barrier provided initial difficulties socially, but he eventually learned and made friends who helped teach him English. It also sparked a hard work ethic.
“I guess because I felt like I was at a lower level than everybody else, it pushed me to work harder and strive to make myself equal with them, but in the process of doing so, I managed to increase my academic level to the top of our school,” he said.
Overcoming obstacles is something he has done his whole life. He was ranked second to last on the Springfield tennis team as a sophomore before working his way up to the varsity as a junior and earning the team’s most improved player award.
A more serious concern was how to pay for college when his dad lost his job last summer, a worry that was later alleviated by the scholarship.
After initially considering the University of Chicago, he narrowed his list to Harvard and Princeton universities and visited both in April. His Harvard trip included a day on lockdown in his aunt’s house in nearby Watertown, Mass., while police engaged the alleged Boston Marathon bombers in a firefight. Despite the scare, he eventually chose Harvard for its city environment and advising staff, to the delight of his parents.
“When he was telling me that he might be choosing Princeton, we were really, really nervous that he’s not [choosing] Harvard,” his father said. “But we knew we had no say over what he decided. All we did was just tell him pros and cons and we are glad that he made the decision that he made.”
Dylan, who was president of the National Honor Society at Springfield and captain of the Science Olympiad, graduated as salutatorian with a 4.7 GPA and earned a 34 on the ACT.
The national average for the ACT is between 20 and 21.
He plans to major in physics with a biophysics emphasis on a pre-med track and hopes to become a cardiothoracic surgeon.
Before he heads to Cambridge, Mass., he is spending his summer teaching younger siblings Brandon and Debbie in preparation for the start of their sophomore and eighth grade years, respectively.
“I discovered his true self after he got into Harvard when he came to me and said, ‘Dad, this is not a time about me, it’s now about my brother and my sister. You should spend your time to better them, not to glorify me,’” Mr. Tan said.
Contact Sam Gans at: