Growing up in Japanese-occupied Burma during World War II, Simon and his mother were forced to flee to a Methodist missionary school in the countryside after the bombing at Pearl Harbor. He was cut off from the rest of the world with little to read except old issues of Reader's Digest and Fortune magazines and the Head Missionary's 1930 Phoenix Union High School Annual.
In that old yearbook, Simon saw a Phoenix College (then Phoenix Junior College) advertisement which altered the course of his life — and the lives of countless others.
Dreams of a Degree
Even before seeing the yearbook, Simon had dreams of going to college. As a boy, he almost died of malaria. He vowed to himself then that, if he survived, he would become a physician.
“I did recover, and so my mind was set,” he says. “I wanted to be a doctor.” However, at that time in Burma, universities were shuttered, and Simon had limited educational options.
In 1945, Simon wrote to then-College dean Dr. Harry Wyman to inquire about enrolling. Dean Wyman responded with registration and tuition information. Simon wrote back declining the offer because he couldn’t afford the $100 tuition. Instead, Simon moved to India and began his studies there.
Simon tried to forget about Phoenix College, but Dean Wyman had not forgotten about him. Unbeknownst to Simon, Dean Wyman asked the local Methodist pastor to help Simon attend Phoenix College. Dean Wyman again wrote to Simon offering him admission, but the letter went to his family in Burma. Simon’s family forwarded the letter to Simon in India via telegram telling him not to re-enroll in classes there.
“It was so reassuring to receive such a letter from someone I had never met,” he says.
Coming to America
In 1946 at the age of 18, Simon set off for the United States on a freighter — a turbulent 46-day sea voyage. After landing in Savannah, Georgia, Simon traveled another three days by train to Phoenix, Arizona and was dropped by taxi at 9:30 p.m. on Dean Wyman's doorstep. Although the Dean hadn’t received Simon’s telegram about his arrival, Dean Wyman greeted him, “Come in. We've been waiting for you.”
The Dean arranged for Simon to stay with a pediatrician and his wife who lived on Encanto Boulevard, about a 20-minute walk from the PC campus. They gave him room, board, and spending money in exchange for cooking and chores.
Simon wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived in the U.S. During his travels, he was surprised to see that some establishments refused to serve people of color even if they had money to spend, which was very different from Burma, where people would offer food and water to anyone in need, even strangers.
Simon enrolled in the pre-medical program at Phoenix College. At PC, Simon found a diverse, welcoming community, and met fellow pre-medical students with whom he liked to study and hang out.
He also found engaging, caring professors who were helpful, accessible, and even asked to be called by their first names — something that was unheard of in Burma. One of his fondest memories is of his German teacher, who insisted that Simon attend his own graduation ceremony. He had not planned to go, but she personally picked him up, took him to graduation, and made sure he joined the procession.
Healing and Helping Others
After graduating from Phoenix College in 1949, Simon earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona, then earned his medical degree from Northwestern University.
In 1959, Dr. Myint returned to Rangoon, Burma and was the first cardiac surgeon there to perform open-heart surgery. Because of the political events at home, it became apparent that he would not be able to stay in Burma, and he soon came back to the United States. After additional surgical training at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Myint settled in Los Angeles, California - working and teaching at the Los Angeles County Hospital and Martin Luther King Hospital in Los Angeles. He proudly served in the first Gulf War as a citizen of the United States of America.
Paying it Forward
Dr. Myint has never forgotten how his journey started or the people who helped him along the way: the caring dean who committed to giving him an opportunity to succeed, the pastor willing to lend a hand, the pediatrician and his wife who housed and fed him, the classmates who befriended him, the teachers who mentored him. In turn, he led the way for two of his brothers and several classmates from Burma to make the trek to study in the U.S.
Dr. Myint has spent much of his career as a doctor giving back to his home country (Burma) and neighboring, Nepal. Dr. Myint continues to travel the world, providing medical services to under-resourced populations. Now in his 80's, Dr. Myint still visits Burma and Nepal regularly to provide medical aid to families that cannot afford or gain access to good medical care.
In 2006, he established the Dean Harry Wyman and the Simon Myint Burma Memorial Scholarships for Science and Health to pay forward the kindness and generosity that helped him achieve his dreams and care for so many others.
Dr. Simon Myint was honored for his dedication and service to the community at the 2007 Phoenix College Alumni Association Hall of Fame. The American Association of Community Colleges honored Dr. Myint in 2013, and, in 2016, he was honored as Phoenix College's Hero of Education.
Phoenix College is proud to recognize and honor Dr. Simon Kyaw Myint for the good works he accomplishes daily for PC students and the international community.
To learn more about establishing a scholarship to help deserving students, please, contact Deborah Spotts at 602-285-7667 | email@example.com, or visit phoenixcollege.edu/waystogive.