Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Cristina Cabrera Jarro
MIAMI | In their less than 20 years of life, siblings Eudens and Tajmara Antoine survived an earthquake, migrated to Miami, learned a new language, and were separated from their parents and family.
But thanks to the education and support provided by local parishes and schools, the pair just graduated from Msgr. Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens and are now college bound, both to New York University. Tajmara, 18, got a full ride as an AnBryce Scholarship recipient, selected from among 20,000 applicants. Eudens, 19, received another scholarship, and will pursue his passion, engineering. He dreams of working at NASA.
“I’m fascinated by what they do,” he said. “I don’t want to be an astronaut, though. I want to be the guy that does the math and designs and builds the rockets.”
Tajmara, less certain about her career path, will study pre-med for now, a career she thought of when she was young in Haiti, “because I always wanted to help.”
Looking back now, she realizes that everything that happened since 2010 — the earthquake, moving to Miami, even the merger of Archbishop Curley-Notre Dame with Pace High during her senior year — put her on the path to NYU.
“It is exactly what I was looking for without even knowing that this is what I was looking for,” she said.
Eudens looks at it philosophically. “God says that it’s he who decides,” he said.
Eudens and Tajmara were born in Brooklyn, New York, to parents Veronique and Pierre Antoine. Afterward, the family moved back to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where Pierre worked at a bank and Veronique at the Catholic school from which she graduated. Tamara and Eudens attended Catholic school. Their little sister, Steffi, was born years later.
The teens now view as blessings several coincidences that led up to their surviving the January 2010 earthquake. Three months prior, their family had moved from the center of Port-au-Prince to the outskirts, near the country. The day of the earthquake, their father was on vacation and picked them up early from school.
“It was a regular day. I was doing my homework at the kitchen table, my mom was bathing my little sister. Everyone was doing their own thing, and out of nowhere, it happened,” said Tajmara.
Eudens described the ground shaking violently, their house swaying, and large stones outside bouncing off the ground. They ran outside. Their dad, Pierre, was hit by falling debris as he fled. Their house remained intact, but the garage collapsed.
Both siblings remember an indescribable silence after the quake. And then the screams and cries of mourning.
“I wouldn’t wish that on anyone,” said Eudens.
The family went straight to the field next to their property, and slowly, other neighbors arrived at the clearing. Together, they erected a makeshift tent village to try to help one another as best they could. The atmosphere was somber and most people were in shock.
“We didn’t care how dirty we were. We didn’t even eat,” said Tajmara.
Eudens and Tajmara later found out that the buildings of their school had collapsed. Many of their friends died.
“If I had known that I was never going to see them again, I would have hugged all of them. You never know when you’re going to see a person for the last time. You have no control over it,” said Eudens.
After the earthquake, they relocated to Miami, where they stayed with family. Thanks to a recommendation from a Haitian priest then serving at the cathedral, Father Esteker Elyse, they were admitted to St. Mary Cathedral School, where they received assistance with tuition and were provided uniforms, textbooks, and more.
“In Haiti, the best schools are the Catholic schools. Our parents put a lot of effort into getting us in. They knew it would be worth it,” said Tajmara.
The cathedral school’s principal, Sister Michelle Fernandez, of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, remembers the Antoines entering the school as fourth graders. They were placed in the same grade for companionship, to ease their sudden transition into life in the U.S.
“They were both very good students and very grateful for everything they received. We worked with their family as much as we could,” said Sister Michelle.
With no other way to express her gratitude, their mom, Veronique, tutored at the school. While she tutored, Sister Michelle looked after Steffi, who was about three months old at the time.
But as Eudens and Tajmara adapted to American life, their parents faced difficulties with immigration. They took turns spending six months at a time in the U.S. until they were caught and required to stay in Haiti for an extended period. They finally returned after obtaining legal residency in 2014 — just in time for Eudens’ and Tajmara’s eighth grade graduation, where Tajmara was named class valedictorian.
That same year, she received a $5,000 scholarship to the Catholic high school of her choice from the Miami Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women.
“I could have chosen between Curley and Pace, but I liked Curley,” said Tajmara. Its predominantly Haitian student body made her feel at home and its small enrollment felt comforting.
One of their favorite teachers at Curley-Notre Dame was Brother John Corcoran, of the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers, who taught English. His courses had a reputation for being intellectually demanding.
“I love the challenge of a professor that is tough,” said Tajmara.
Brother Corcoran said he was amazed by the Antoines’ drive, one that extended beyond the classroom and spread through any activity they were involved in, be it athletics, extracurricular, or volunteer events such as Hunger Fest, the Thanksgiving Drive and the Christmas Toy Drive.
“Both students were highly respected by everyone in the school, by both teachers and fellow students,” said Brother Corcoran. “The whole group of young people that they hung out with, they really reinforced each other and brought out the best in each other.”
Academically, he noted that Tajmara was one of the few students who returned for suggestions and edits to her writing. She worried about her proficiency in English, her second language.
“I never found her to be afraid of a challenge. She will ask for help, but that is not the same thing as not feeling that you cannot handle it,” said Brother Corcoran.
With his aid, and a natural love of reading, her writing improved. She even earned a perfect score in the writing section of the ACT. Now she is challenging herself to learn Spanish but joked that few of her peers at Pace practiced with her, so she follows up with Spanish TV shows.
The Antoines say they are grateful to St. Mary Cathedral School and Church, Curley-Notre Dame and Pace High. Because of the help they received, both say they are committed to giving back someday, especially to Haiti and their parents.
“They went through a lot of sacrifices. And because God allowed me to live — a lot of kids my age died — I don’t want to take that for granted,” said Eudens.