FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY

After tragedy, new FIU grad earns crowning achievement

 

cnightingale@MiamiHerald.com

From the depths of tragedy in her native Haiti, Marie Ketty Jussome sought success and craved education. Monday afternoon brought her latest crowning achievement.

Jussome, whose husband was killed in Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake in January 2010, graduated with a master’s of science degree in nursing at Florida International University.

In doing so, she also completed a remarkable personal journey. “Being accepted at FIU has been a blessing for me,” said the soft-spoken Jussome minutes before students, faculty, family and friends took their seats for the second of three graduation ceremonies Monday at U.S. Century Bank Arena.

There will be three more graduations staged there Tuesday, all filled with stories of personal sacrifice and dedication. But Jussome’s is particularly compelling.

Jussome’s husband, Pierre Alix Laroche, was a doctor who managed the family’s clinic in Haiti. He was 47 when he died in the earthquake, and that day, Jussome’s life changed forever. Her three daughters were suddenly without a father, who was also the financial provider.

“He died when he was teaching in a nursing school,” said Jussome, recalling the darkest day of her life while dressed in the cap and gown that symbolized her revamped life.

Jussome was desperate to thrive, not merely survive, and she wanted to show her daughters that their mother was a role model, too. Her main ambition was to continue in her husband’s footsteps, a man she proudly put in the category of a leader and a hero.

By the fall of 2010, Jussome was enrolled in the BSN-MSN Foreign Educated Physician program at FIU. By immersing herself in education and continuing in the nursing field she loved, Jussome could better deal with her husband’s tragic death while setting that example for her daughters.

“I just thank FIU for giving me this opportunity,” said Jussome before walking to the stage at age 46 with men and women less than half her age.

Wanting to teach others while being taught herself, Jussome became involved at the Center for Academic Success at FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus as a tutor and mentor.

Jussome can’t stop moving and refuses to stop doing. “It comes naturally,” she said with a proud smile.

On Monday, Jussome looked out from a corner of the arena before the ceremony and pointed to where she would sit during the ceremony, and then to where her three daughters — Ketialie, 20; Alissa, 19, and Alexandra, 14 — would be watching their mother achieve this milestone. Ketialie and Alissa would be watching their mother graduate at the school where they themselves currently study.

But while Monday was an end, it was also another beginning. Jussome has been accepted to FIU’s doctorate program and wants to eventually start working in the community in a clinical setting. She was a pediatrician in Haiti.

“After experiencing the death of my husband, I found hope, help at FIU,” Jussome said.

A few minutes later, she took her seat with the other graduates, with those loving daughters watching from the crowd. The graduation ceremony featured a commencement speaker, Miami-Dade County Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, who spoke about “investing in your future,” as Jussome has, and talked about the rich opportunities to achieve one’s dreams at FIU and in America — as Jussome has.

Turning tragedy into a personal triumph wasn’t in Jussome’s original life script. But the script changed, and she changed with it.

She hopes to complete the Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner program by November.

“It has been difficult,” Jussome admitted. “I felt a lot of despair for my friends, my family. But I’ve never been discouraged. I believed this day would come at the end.”

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