2016 Tillman Scholar
A first-generation Cuban-American growing up in a low-income household, as a child, for Zachary more emphasis was placed on getting a job and contributing to the household than achieving academic excellence. With his parents divorcing when he was seven, Zachary’s mother raised him and his siblings as a single parent, constantly struggling to put food on the table. Zachary started working full time in the ninth grade to help his mother make ends meet while struggling throughout his teenage years to find direction and purpose in life. Barely graduating from high school, it was evident that he would never achieve any of the goals that he had dreamed of if he did not change his circumstances. Dreaming of going to college, becoming a fighter pilot, or perhaps even a doctor, ultimately it was enlisting in the Navy that saved his life.
With the Navy providing him with the vehicle to pursue higher education and better his circumstances, Zachary became the first person in his family to graduate from high school, college, and earn a master’s degree. At the young age of five, Zachary nearly lost his father to a house fire, leaving third-degree burns over nearly seventy-five percent of his body and causing temporary blindness. Though too young to fully grasp the gravity of his injuries, it was during his recovery that the seed of medicine was first planted in Zachary, as he assisted changing his bandages and acting as his “seeing eye dog”. This first-hand experience ignited his unfailing desire for service to his fellow man. Following a highly successful military career, as a Naval Aviator, with proven commitment to service, sacrifice, and learning, Zachary finds himself full circle now in a position to follow his other dream of becoming a doctor, focusing on making a meaningful impact as a minority physician, and pursuing legislation and other avenues to shape the future landscape of the United States healthcare system.