Christina Casseus is an FIU 2020 Honors College graduate who majored in political science with a minor in international relations. The daughter of migrant workers, Casseus recounts her experience as an FIU student pursuing her degree fully online and the hardships she faced with her health and when her gravely ill mother passed away two weeks before graduation.
By Christina Casseus
I've always considered myself a walking miracle because none of my life achievements ever came easy. I was born in Pahokee, FL, but raised in Belle Glade, FL. My parents were migrant agricultural workers and immigrants from Haiti who could not read or write. They worked long hours in agriculture fields to ensure a stable living condition for my siblings and me.
Every summer, my siblings and I were forced to leave our mobile home and friends to travel miles away to Georgia so my parents could work all summer long. I watched my parents wake up every day of the week at three o'clock in the morning and prepare for work regardless of the weather.
I never experienced the traditional childhood summer with water park experiences, outdoor cookouts or playdates with friends. My summers were mainly spent indoors watching TV with my siblings. At the time, we did not have cable, but I still managed to find happiness because of the television show “Judge Judy,” which initially sparked an interest in wanting to be a part of the legal field. I always admired her demeanor and ability to attain the truth. I wanted to be like her one day.
As years went by, my determination only grew. Unfortunately, I experienced syncope on a college campus and was rushed to the local hospital, where I was later diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). I was forced to drop out of school for an entire year while I battled not only POTS but weight loss and depression because I was hospitalized continuously.
After obtaining my associates degree online, I decided to transfer to FIU to complete my bachelor's degree with FIU Online. I was notified that I was accepted into the Honors College. I could not believe it because, with everything I endured, my hard work was finally being recognized and opening doors for me. Online learning granted me effective time management, which allowed me to balance my personal life and complete my educational journey. I also connected with my peers from my comfort zone via discussion boards, Zoom meetings and group chats. Online learning was best for me because I was able to care for my mother and myself—it allowed me to overcome fears at my own pace.
My mother's heart failure had completely taken over her life. As her primary caregiver, I cared for her needs during the day and completed my school duties at night.
Two weeks before graduation, I received a call at 1:39 a.m. that changed my life forever. My heart shattered, my legs got weak and tears began rolling down my eyes. I could not believe that the one person I shared all my dreams with, who continuously discussed witnessing my graduation, died two weeks before I graduated. I felt numb and unable to focus.
I emailed my professors asking to take my exams early. I had to honor my mother’s last dying wish, which was to be buried in Haiti, her home country.
When I became a fully online FIU student, I was paired with a success coach, Shequesta Scott, who helped me communicate with all of my professors. My professors allowed me to take my exams before the initially scheduled dates. Scott provided me with resources, moral support and encouragement on behalf of the university through my time of grief. She was a light amid my darkness. FIU does care about its students, and FIU Online was one of the best decisions I made for my college journey.
Although I have made many sacrifices, such as not having the traditional college experience, my education and my dreams are things I will never give up on. Now that I’ve completed my bachelor's degree, I plan to reapply to FIU to achieve my law degree.
It makes me proud that I am an FIU alumna because I am part of a community that genuinely cares for its students. And while I’m still grieving the loss of my mother, I know she’s proud of me.