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Abel Miranda (right) with fellow hospital corpsman and mentor in Okinawa, 2016, 1st BN 12th Marines.

When Abel Miranda first enrolled in college nine years ago, something didn’t feel right. He was doing well in his classes, but something was missing.

Miranda enlisted in the Navy, hoping the move would give his life new direction and purpose.

“It just felt like a perfect fit for me,” said Miranda.

During his five years as a medic embedded with the Marine Corps, which included a deployment to Okinawa, Japan, he learned the value of sacrifice and found the direction he was seeking.

Now, the former petty officer second class from Charlotte is headed to Carolina as an incoming junior, hoping to combine his Navy training with a desire to help others to become what he calls a “humanitarian warrior.”

“Because of my training and experiences in the Navy, I definitely have enough discipline, enough drive and enough charisma to do my part to make a difference,” he said. “I feel like it’s a responsibility to use these things that I’ve been lucky to learn in my life and put them to good use. I’m exactly where I need to be to continue my journey.”

The warrior ethos

The Navy has a saying, “Ship. Shipmate. Self.” It means that sailors should first focus on keeping the ship afloat. Then, look out for shipmates. Finally, look out for yourself. That means you’re ready to go at all times.

“When we have a mission to complete, it’s bigger than me,” Miranda said. “You have to put people above yourself at all times.”

Miranda said these three characteristics are incorporated in the warrior ethos — to sacrifice yourself for the good of your fellow crew members and the mission.

His parents set this example for him as he was growing up.

Miranda’s parents moved from Ecuador to Miami when he was 9. They left behind careers in architecture and banking to build a better life for their children while working at a local Steak ‘n Shake.

“My parents were willing to do anything for the people that they loved and cared about,” he said, “so that always drives me to keep an eye out for the people I care about.”

Fighting for others

Miranda says Carolina is the perfect place for him to continue what he calls his humanitarian training.

“There are a lot of great minds here who are accomplishing really important, global things,” said Miranda. “The person sitting next to me in biology class might be the one to find the cure for HIV.”

Miranda will major in biology and plans to attend medical school. He wants to improve health care access by providing the care himself and helping to restructure the country’s health care system.

As a child, Miranda grew up without health insurance. He never had regular medical checkups and his family discouraged him from participating in some activities, like playing on the middle school football team.

“It must have been in the back of my parents’ minds at all times,” he said. “‘If somebody gets hurt or gets really sick, it’s going to turn our whole world upside down.’ That’s kind of crazy.”

He hopes his time at Carolina and then in medical school will prepare him to help lift that burden from other families.

Starting strong in Chapel Hill

Miranda’s Carolina experience has already started. This summer, he participated in the Start Strong Summer Transition organized by the Carolina Mxle Scholars. The program is designed to help underrepresented men, first-generation students and Carolina Covenant Scholars successfully acclimate to campus before classes start.

Participating in the program gave Miranda the chance to get a head start on another of his goals at Carolina: sharing his experiences and perspectives with other students, many of whom have not had the same life experiences as the 28-year-old.

It’s a big opportunity to help others that he says he doesn’t want to miss.

“Looking back on my life, I want to know that I did my best to make a huge difference in the lives of other people.”


By Will Rimer, University Communications

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