Zhan Guanyuan came from such a poor family that when he was just over 1 month old, he was farmed out to neighbors to be looked after. When he was 2, his sister, herself only 5, began caring for him.
At a Tongji University graduation ceremony at the weekend, Zhan was one of 159 honored for his volunteering to set aside well-paying job opportunities to help China's less fortunate citizens.
A native of Anhui Province, he is going to work in the Tibet Autonomous Region — the only doctoral graduate from Tongji to work in Tibet this year.
He said he made his career choice naturally because of his own life experience as he had enjoyed help from others, which had implanted a "gene" guiding him in turn to help people in need.
His parents, busy in their own jobs, felt they had no choice but to use their daughter to bring him up. She had to drop out of school when she was in 9th grade due to the family's poverty. "I made a wish at that time that I would be a principal to make every child enjoy education and no one would be left behind," Zhan said.
His own experiences pushed him to exert himself constantly both in study and life, and to stand on his own feet.
He took part-time jobs to support his tuition and living expenses at university. He collected mineral water bottles and undertook cleaning work when he was an undergraduate in Anhui.
After returning to school from his part-time jobs, he did his homework in the toilets, because it was one place where the lights were always on.
Because of his own difficulties, he wanted to do social service, and he tutored five children from poor families for free while studying himself.
When he came to Shanghai to pursue a doctoral degree at Tongji, he brought his parents, who were in poor health, with him as he wanted to look after them.
His experiences touched professors and classmates alike, many of whom wanted to help him. Senior schoolmates even gave their scholarship funds to him before they left for overseas study.
Zhan said he his dream was to be a teacher or find a job working in administrative service areas. "I can teach students and influence generation after generation," he said. "Working in administrative service sectors, such as serving in towns and villages, I can also benefit future generations with good services."
As a doctoral student of the College of Civil engineering, one of Tongji's strongest majors, it was not difficult for him to obtain a well-paid job in Shanghai. But when he heard several months ago that the Shigatse prefecture government in Tibet was recruiting graduates, he applied immediately and was snapped up.
"I just want to do something for the Midwest region," he said.
"A man's value does not depend on how much money he can make, but how many meaningful things he can do," Tongji's star graduate added.
"No matter where we are, we must bear love in our heart, loving study, loving life, loving family and loving the society, just like what I was taught in Tongji."
Zhong Zhihua, president of the university, praised Zhan and all the honored students for their sense of responsibility and spirit of self-sacrifice.