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Haitian-born student shares similarities with Upstate president

Kethia is a third-year medical student.

Kethia Eliezer is in her third year of medical school at Upstate Medical University. Photo by Debbie Rexine.

Third-year medical student Kethia Eliezer introduced Upstate's new president, Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, at a welcoming reception Thursday night. Both are natives of Haiti.

"When it was first announced that Dr. Laraque Arena would be the new SUNY Upstate president last September, I posted a link of an article about her and picture of her with the caption 'Haitian-born, yay!' " Eliezer began. "My high school friend who lives in Brooklyn commented on my post saying 'I know her. She worked at Maimonides. She‘s a very smart woman. I chatted with her a few times when my daughter was in the hospital. She listens and appeared to be very caring.'

Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, is president of Upstate Medical University.

Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, is president of Upstate Medical University. Photo by Debbie Rexine.

"I know I can go on to list other similar anecdotes as well as her past work experiences in various health communities, but I‘m sure you are all aware of her extensive resume.  Instead, I will tell a brief story of how two somewhat parallel lives, separated by a couple of decades, met each other for the first time here in Syracuse, on Monday Feb. 1.

"We were both born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, shaped by our altruistic parents and influenced by our experiences in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. We both moved to the U.S. at a young age, me at the age of 12 and her at the age of 7.

"We have both lived in Westchester County, just a town apart. We have both lived in Philadelphia, Pa., where I completed a masters in medical sciences at Drexel University and where she completed her residency at the Children‘s Hospital of Philadelphia.

"She is now a pediatrician, and I have wanted to be a pediatrician since I was 8 years old. (Just a note, I will be a pediatrician in approximately 1,566 days, but who‘s counting, right?)

Eliezer continued: "From talking to Dr. Laraque-Arena on Monday, I can tell that she is very decisive and that we both value fairness, diversity, community, and inclusion. She wishes to bring to SUNY Upstate transparency and a sense that if it‘s one person‘s problem, its everyone‘s problem. She wants to foster change based on data and dialogue among the leaders in the Upstate community.

Upstate President Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, hugs Kethia

Upstate President Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, hugs medical student Kethia Eliezer at her welcoming reception. Photo by Debbie Rexine.

"Though she will no longer be seeing patients, she informed me that she plans on being engaged in the clinical community via teaching, life-long learning, and research. In addition, she will keep in touch with some of her patients because she values long-term patient relationships, something I wish to have as a future physician.

"I can‘t explain how special it is for me to share all of these similarities with someone who has done such incredible things. To me and to many others in the SUNY Upstate and Syracuse communities, I am sure she is not only SUNY Upstate‘s new president and first female president and first black president, she is someone truly relatable and someone to look up to.

"She will be a role model for many of people. She confirms that I, too, can do great things."

Laraque-Arena began her first day as president Jan. 14.