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28386: Hermantin(News)Haitian student's successes defy the odds (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Thu, Apr. 27, 2006

Haitian student's successes defy the odds
The daughter of Haitian refugees who came ashore by boat has excelled in the classroom and in community service.

Special to The Miami Herald

Every Saturday and Sunday, you can hear Gurlaine Marc Jean's voice ringing out in Little Haiti's First Interdenominational Church choir. The 20-year-old Jean, who has been singing since she was 5, performs rousing praise and gospel music in a noticeably clear soprano.

The former choir member at William H. Turner Technical Arts High School, who is active in young adult, music and youth ministries at her church, is also a member of the Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus Crusade for Christ and Student Life's Spirit of Faith club. Her deep faith comes from knowing that life can be very hard and that it's important to make every day count.

The finance student is aware that 26 years ago, her parents beat the odds to cross the Florida straits on a raft to escape poverty in Haiti. Jean's father, Georges, 57, tells his children about how the raft made landfall at seven different locations before arriving in the U.S. He also tells them many lives were lost along the way.

Jean's mother, Margulna, also 57, arrived on a separate boat and later met Georges, with whom she had three children, all born in Miami. The couple applied for legal status upon arrival and they are now U.S. citizens.

The lilting cadence of Creole still permeates the Jean household. Margulna Jean, who works as the housekeeper for a nursing home, never completed basic schooling in Haiti and speaks minimal English. She recently enrolled in evening classes to improve her Creole reading and writing skills. Georges Jean, who works as a machinist, speaks some English. They consider education a necessary means to making a living wage.

But Gurlaine realized that education could do more -- it can give her the opportunity to do work that will make her happy. She speaks passionately about helping the Haitian community learn how to invest its money or obtain student and business loans.

''There's a great lack of financial advice in our community,'' she said.

Jean will receive an associate of arts in business administration and finance at the James L. Knight Center on Saturday, one of thousands of MDC students who will graduate during several commencement ceremonies spread throughout the day. The Miami resident already works part-time at a tax preparation firm and has a student assistant position in the New World School of the Arts Visual Arts Department at the Wolfson Campus. She hopes to pursue further studies and has been accepted at Howard University for the fall 2006 term.

''Gurlaine has surmounted a great challenge in pursuit of higher education,'' said Wolfson Campus president Rolando Montoya. ``An excellent student and community volunteer, she looks forward to the day when, having completed further studies, she can make a personal contribution to the prosperity and well-being of the Haitian community.''

Jean's dedication does not end with finance classes and her church choir. She also volunteers with MDC's VITA program as a volunteer tax preparer and has volunteered at Camillus House -- all the while keeping her grades way up.

Those grades earned her membership in the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society and, along with community service, made it possible for her to finance her studies.

Jean won a Florida Bright Futures scholarship, a Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus GMC Grant, a Business Studies scholarship, a Miami Museum of Science scholarship and a Women in Mortgage Finance Scholarship.

She is quick to acknowledge the central role her mentors have played in her life.

''I would never have gotten this far without the help of Willie Lewis Charles in the Miami Museum of Science, Pearly Clark and Caroline Hilton at Turner Tech and my advisor Donald Perry at Miami Dade College,'' she said.

Shortly after 7 p.m. Saturday, Jean will justify her mentors' faith when she joins 1,362 other Wolfson Campus students at commencement exercises. A leader when it comes to grades, Jean is a minority in her graduating class. Only 9.5 percent of graduating students are native Creole speakers; the majority -- 45.5 percent -- claim Spanish as their native language.