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Cuban Immigrant will Address NECC Class of 2019

Submitted by on April 24, 2019 – 6:07 pm

Yexis Hechavarria of Lawrence, an aspiring medical doctor, who emigrated from Cuba to the United States when she was 17, will represent the Northern Essex Community College class of 2019 as the student commencement speaker.

A biology major and 2015 Lawrence High School graduate, Hechavarria was one of eight students nominated for this honor based on academic success—she has a 3.58 GPA— and contributions to the college and the community.  She was nominated by Natural Sciences Professor Sarah Courchesne, who is her former Biology professor and current advisor, and chosen by a committee of Northern Essex faculty and staff.  NECC President Lane Glenn made the final decision.

In her nomination, Courchesne wrote “Yexis is academically strong, intellectually curious, driven, and self-motivated.  Referring to Hechavarria’s journey from Cuba to the United States, she also wrote “From the internet to microscopes, she had a steep learning curve that she climbed with astonishing rapidity and alacrity.”

When she arrived in Lawrence five years ago with her brother and her mother, Hechavarria could not speak English.  “One, two, three, four…is all I knew,” she says.

She enrolled in Lawrence’s International High School and spent her junior year learning English with the help of “Jane Eyre”, a book which her teacher lent her.  Her senior year she moved to the Math, Science, and Technology High School, based on her interest in the medical field.

Hechavarria’s parents were both doctors in Cuba, and, as a child, she sometimes went to work with them, an experience that fueled her interest in medicine.

“Life is so complex that it shouldn’t exist,” she says.  “That’s what fascinates me about medicine.”

Her parents recently left the area to pursue work opportunities.  Her father is now living in Texas, driving a truck, and her mother is in Miami, starting a new job as a social worker.  As a result, the 22-year old is now alone supporting herself with four jobs while in college.  She’s a baker at Walmart; a tutor for a program Northern Essex offers onsite at Raytheon; a peer tutor for NECC ESL students; and a tutor in the math center.

What Hechavarria appreciates most about Northern Essex is the personal attention she has received.  “Sarah (Professor Courchesne) is always looking for opportunities for me…internships, scholarships.”

She joined Courchesne as a research assistant on a seabird ecology study in the Gulf of Maine two summer ago and, last summer, she was chosen for a highly selected Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Northeastern University, where she was part of a lab team focused on studying aorta pathology in mice.

In the fall, Hechavarria plans to transfer to Merrimack College, and major in biochemistry.  After that, she has her sights set on medical school.

To learn more about NECC’s Commencement, visit the website.