Class of 2023 Salutatorian

Kethia Calixte-Sanon


Class of 2023 Salutatorian Kethia Calixte-Sanon

Class of 2023 Salutatorian Kethia Calixte-Sanon

Please share a little about your background — what’s your story?  
 I am a nature loving small town girl from Jacmel, Haiti. My mother and I migrated to the United States in 2011 and I have been a New Yorker ever since. My family has always valued education above all, my teenage years were categorized by the now funny but true idiom ‘Lekòl, Lakay, Legliz’ which translates to ‘School, Home and Church,’ telling the analogous story of first-generation Haitian American teenagers. This traditional and strict background laid the foundation for my academic successes. I attended middle school at the Science and Medicine Middle School and although I spoke little English, I quickly became a top student with the help of my teachers, graduating with honors. The journey continued to high school at the Clara Barton High School for Medical Professions, where I successfully completed their accredited License Practical Nursing program at the age of 17, passed my New York state National Council Licensure Examination, and graduated high school with two diplomas. I always thought that I would end up in the medical field, until college where I decided to break away.
What is your passion or purpose behind your studies at CCNY?
 Growing up in Jacmel, I loved being around people and going on adventures. My parents were educators, and our home was always filled with all kinds of people. My dad held classes for older individuals in our neighborhood, and I often joined in to help them trace letters. This sparked a desire in me to help others. When I came to CCNY, I struggled to choose a major that would allow me to pursue my passions for helping others. After pursuing nursing in high school and realizing it wasn't for me, I wondered how I could prioritize others as a first-generation immigrant. Through various internships and service opportunities, including AmeriCorps, I discovered that my purpose was to be a bridge between community members and organizations, and to apply interdisciplinary approaches to problem-solving. My goal is to support individuals and communities with sustainable, long-term solutions, and my choice of majors and minors reflects this goal.
Where are you in your career? How has the Colin Powell School helped you along the way?
My time at the Colin Powell School has been brief but meaningful. I came in with interests in Public Policy and Sustainable Development, and over the past four years, they have grown exponentially. I've taken advantage of the opportunities and connections available to students, participating in fellowships and internships such as the Colin Powell Fellowship in Leadership and Public Service, where I was the first recipient of the Stuart and Daphne Wells Public Scholarship; the CUNY Women's Public Policy Internship Program; and the S Jay Levy Fellowship for Future Leaders. I also spent the summer of 2022 interning in Washington DC as a research assistant, focusing on labor movements of the early 20th century. These experiences taught me the importance of people, conversations, and networks. Now, as a graduate with International Development and Psychology majors and minors in Economics and Public Policy, I feel ready to pursue my passions and start my career.
What are your post-graduation plans? 
As a Legal Honors Scholar, my aim is to leverage my legal education to drive innovative and sustainable development practices. After taking a gap year, during which I plan to support local and international organizations in their research and resource organization efforts to combat climate breakdown and build resilience, I intend to enroll in law school. My focus on international development is rooted in the belief that the approach to solving complex issues should be multifaceted. It involves empowering local communities and societies while prioritizing sustainability. My experience in Senegal, where I completed a Sustainable Development and Ecovillage Service Learning program, provided me with a unique insight into the communities leading this change. I also worked on an independent study with Dr. Marie Nazon that investigated the effects of water access and REDES wells on the Lahel community. This opportunity enabled me to gather firsthand information on the tangible local, national, and international impacts of community-driven initiatives. During my gap year, I plan to further explore this area to deepen my understanding of community change and policy.
Please share a significant memory and/or accomplishment from your time at CCNY. 
One significant memory from my college experience was serving as a Senator for the Undergraduate Student Government. In the fall of 2021, I joined the student government to focus on academic affairs and student engagement on campus. This opportunity allowed me to gain a unique perspective on the CUNY system and the operations of our campus, but what made it truly memorable were the people I met. I had the privilege of working alongside individuals from every school and division of City College, who were passionate about shaping their learning experience and making it better for others. During my term as a Senator, I was able to build new connections and make major contributions to administrative conversations and steps. Serving the student body was an honor and the memories I made during that time will stay with me forever.
Do you have any advice you could give to current or future students?
There is a piece of advice that I received during my college journey that has stayed with me and proven valuable: "Relax." At first, I didn't take it seriously, but as I prepare to graduate, I realize how important it is. It's easy to get caught up in the present and feel overwhelmed, but as General Powell once said, "It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning." When my mind starts racing and I'm trying to plan my future or navigate difficult situations, I've learned that taking a step back and slowing down can help me gain perspective. Walking, taking a breather, and giving myself time to rest and recharge have been key to helping me feel more grounded and less anxious.
How would you describe CPS in three words? 
Playground for Success.

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