Morristown, N.J. (January 9, 2018) – Students seeking a medical or doctoral degree know the road is a long, difficult one requiring hard work, dedication, and perseverance. It is a route that the Charles' sisters know only too well.
For Dr. Meedlen Charles, '96, and Dr. Agathe Pierre-Louis, '00, that journey began as French-speaking children in Haiti, led them to Marylawn of the Oranges, and, with an important stop at the College of Saint Elizabeth, straight on to medical and graduate schools, and successful careers. Their motivators were their parents who instilled in them the importance of education, their strong Catholic faith and the support of so many mentors that guided them along the way, namely the Sisters of Charity who instructed them during their secondary education.
For 13-year-old Meedlen and eight-year-old Agathe, the transition from Haiti to America had its challenges, beginning with the language. The girls didn't speak a word of English when they came here.
"I remember my dad repeating with us and trying to help us memorize, 'My name is ...' and we would say our name, and 'I don't speak English, I speak French.' That was the only tool when we arrived in school," recalled Agathe.
For Meedlen, the change was even more difficult. At 13, she was already in high school at Marylawn of the Oranges.
"I would take math classes and English classes and religion classes and not know what was being said. I didn't know anything that was going on. I would go to Assembly, and I would stand when everyone else would stand. I would clap when everyone else was clapping, but I didn't know what was going on. It really was a culture shock because you had people all around you talking, and you didn't know what was being said. It was a struggle initially."
When it came time to choose a college, the choice was easy. Meedlen remembers that several teachers suggested the College of Saint Elizabeth.
"At the time, I had only one goal. I always wanted to be a physician. I went there with a goal in mind and went to accomplish it. Nobody was going to deviate me from that plan."
True to her word, Meedlen followed her dream to Drexel University School of Medicine (MCP/Hahnemann) where she found her calling, obstetrics/gynecology.
"I actually love what I do. I wish I didn't. The hours are ridiculous. If I could have babies born between nine and five, it would be wonderful, but that doesn't happen. I love what I do. That is where my heart is."
After graduation, Meedlen spent five years on active duty and three in the reserves as an Army doctor.
"The military is a different breed. The people are amazing. As an ob/gyn physician in the military, many of my patients were either soldiers themselves or the wives of the soldiers. To deliver somebody whose partner or husband is in Afghanistan and can't make it back to see the birth of his baby, and her family is somewhere miles away and can't make it in time, she is by herself. She is pregnant and doing it all on her own. This is the norm of what military wives have to deal with on a daily basis. It was a privilege for me to take care of them."
"I spent nine months in Afghanistan, and there were circumstances that I went through that I never thought I would be able to deal with, but I learned so much."
After high school, Agathe followed her sister to CSE. As an EOF student, Agathe spent the summer on campus before her first semester.
"It was such a treasured experience... It allowed me to fully develop myself. I developed some strong friendships, which I still have today. I developed my character to be strong and felt I could accomplish anything."
"We were nurtured into being powerful women. It has manifested in my work today as I counsel women."
Unlike her sister, Agathe's career path was not so clear cut.
"The idea of being a doctor was something I ran away from. I said to myself that maybe I wanted to become a counselor, but I didn't know what that meant either. I looked into physical therapy, but bones breaking? No, that was not an interest of mine. I fell into counseling. When I read about being a psychologist, I thought 'I don't want to do that', but that is the path I eventually took."
After graduating from Lehigh University with a master's in education and human services and a doctorate from Argosy University, Agathe established Embrace Therapy, which provides individual psychotherapy, mommy sessions group therapy, couples therapy, and life coaching. According to her website, "Embrace Therapy is dedicated to restoring a woman's mental health by helping her achieve a complete understanding of herself through the many roles she engages in."
To today's college students, just dreaming about a career like the Charles' sisters once did, Agathe gives this advice, "Find your passion and stay on course. Dream big and never lose sight of that."
That seems the same direction that sent two Haitian sisters on their road to success.