Connecticut College Magazine · Winter 2011


Photo by Grace Griffin '14

Past Issues

Contact Us

Address Change

College Homepage

The Student Leader: Diane Essis '12

The Student Leader: Diane Essis '12
Diane Essis '12. Photo by Bob Handelman

by Elizabeth Hamilton

Diane Essis '12 was only a toddler when she underwent open-heart surgery in France, but the experience was life altering in ways that neither she nor her mother could have predicted.

Not only did surgeons correct her mitral valve prolapse, closing the valve separating the upper and lower chambers of the left side of the heart, they also instilled in their young patient a desire to be a doctor herself.

“The doctors and nurses who took care of me, without them I wouldn't be alive,” says Essis, now 21. “That is something I learned at a young age. Why else would I have wanted to become a doctor and why would it have stuck with me all this time?”

Essis, who is president of the Student Government Association and a member of the Science Leaders Program, considers this event central to who she is today — part of what drives her to excel in science in the hopes of becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon.

She's been slightly more reflective about her life lately because of her participation in “100 Years of Great Beginnings:”delving into her life experiences and her family history and examining how they helped shape her as a person, a task she seems to relish.

It's meant remembering her first, and only, visit to her mother's village in Ivory Coast. That visit, during the winter of her senior year of high school, made a deep impression on her, she says.
What struck Essis most vividly, she says, is how close people are to their families, and how much they rely on each other every day.

“The country is poor and it's a developing country, but there's still a lot of love and energy and hope. There's this really strong bond that is there between family,” Essis says. “I think that's something that I realized was lacking (in the U.S.) and that I want to try to recreate here.”

Essis' mother, Marguerite, who left Ivory Coast when she was 19 to study in France, only had one sibling — a sister, who also left home at a young age — but there is a large, extended family, headed by her 70-year-old grandmother, Marguerite Melei Memel, still living in the village of Viele Aklodj.

At the Big Event, Essis compared the support she has received at Connecticut College to the strong network that sustains her extended family in Viele Aklodji. “Connecticut College has become my own personal version of my grandmother's village,” she said. “And I've come to realize that Connecticut College itself has been shaped and transformed by each generation in the past and the generations to come.”

Essis was raised by her mother in Amherst, Mass. They came to the U.S. when Essis was 3, shortly after her heart surgery. Her mother eventually started a home health care business for the elderly, and was able to send her daughter to the Williston Northampton School and then Connecticut College.

“Obviously my mother is probably my biggest motivation,” says Essis, who has stayed in touch with her father, who remained in France, and a paternal half-sister. “My mother is the one who pushes me the most to dream big and not be afraid of taking a risk.”

But others have also influenced her path, she adds, including Jennifer Fulcher '89, now head of Williston's middle school, who was her eighth-grade civics teacher and lacrosse coach.

“She pushed us in a way that made us feel like we could accomplish anything. She had so much faith in us,” Essis says. “She would always say, 'Whenever you think you're tired, remember, you're not tired. You're never tired.' It was her way of saying you should never give up.”

Connecticut College Magazine

This page maintained by College Relations <>
General Feedback
Copyright © 2017