Two years ago, Brian Sung Duk Bauman, severely weakened by leukemia, watched from the grandstand as his classmates graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy. Last month it was Bauman's turn to toss his white cap high into nearly cloudless skies over Colorado Springs. "I'm nothing but happy today," he said between puffs on a celebratory cigar, hugs from classmates and photos with his family.

Such happiness seemed beyond Bauman's reach in 1995, when as a senior he was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia and told he would die without a bone-marrow transplant (PEOPLE, March 4, 1996). "The first day he was down," recalls father Steve, 53, of Pine City, Minn., an engineer for 3M who, with his wife, Elaine, 53, a grade-school nurse, adopted Brian in 1977. "The second day he said, 'Okay, I'm going to take on the world.' And he did." The most suitable donor turned out to be a South Korean soldier who learned of Brian's plight from a Korean TV documentary. A year after the transplant, Bauman returned to school.

Regulations bar him from ever flying for the Air Force and decree that his cancer must be in remission for five years before he can apply for a commission. But right now, Bauman, 23, is concentrating on other goals, "like getting my [parachute] jump license, my private pilot's license and my scuba license"—and finding a job. "If you put your mind to it, you can always accomplish what you want," he says. "There is nothing stopping you but yourself."