KUALA LUMPUR: He failed his SPM and joined the army as a recruit in 1972.
Thirty-one years later, Mejar Dr Syed Othman Syed Omar, 50, received a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree from Universiti Malaya at its convocation yesterday.
But what makes his story even more remarkable is the fact that Mej Dr Syed Othman is blind.
On Aug 4, 1979, his life changed forever when, less than a month after his marriage, the then Leftenen Muda Syed Othman was injured in a communist booby trap at Ban Tong Yan in Southern Thailand. He sustained injuries to his head, face and chest and spent four months in hospital.
After I was blinded I knew I could not continue as before. I was determined to make the most of my situation so I enrolled at the Gurney Training Centre for the Blind in Brickfields. After that I wanted to do a degree and received a scholarship to further my studies at the University of Miami in Florida, where I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Communications in 1987.
The avid reader and author of four books, Mej Dr Syed Othman then decided to do his Masters.
He graduated from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) with an MA in Literature in 1996 before embarking on his PhD at UM.
It took him six years to do the PhD as he is still employed with the armed forces and is the editor for its publication, Buletin Setia.
As a blind army officer, I cannot hold a weapon but I can use my brains. I decided to do a PhD as I wanted to give my best to my employer and the nation, he says.
Mejar Dr Syed Othmans lifelong interest in military history is reflected in the title of his PhD dissertation, The Royal Malay Regiment 1933-1968. He is also the author of four other books on the subject.
I would like to continue writing books that focus on the countrys forgotten heroes,'' said the father of six children - five daughters and a son. His second eldest daughter, Sharifah Noor Fadzilah, is a Leftenen Muda Lieutenant in the Army.
The first day of UMs six-day convocation ceremony saw the university conferring honorary doctorates on Tan Sri Basir Ismail, Tun Syed Zahiruddin Syed Hassan and Tan Sri Chan Ah Chye. They were awarded honorary doctorates in Economics, Law and Science (Engineering) respectively.