Who are the women that made you? A conversation with Larissa Baia of Lake Region Community College

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Editor’s note: This is one in a short series of interviews with local women as part of our https://manchesterinklink.com/wp-admin/admin.php?page=sbp-settingscontinuing Women’s History Month coverage.

No woman is an island. In reviewing life’s tapestry we discover the women who have and continue to play significant roles in our soul’s growth. Some we have known since birth; some joined us along life’s journey, while others appeared in auspicious timing, with a necessary word or conversation relevant during a crucial moment. They may be part of the family we are born into, a family we chose, or a combination of both. 

Some may be here, some may be gone, but all worked in orchestral tandem to mold us into who we are today. We honor the women in our own lives who have empowered and inspired, shared sage wisdom, offered their shoulder, and held space. In recognition of Women’s History Month, we ask the question: Who are the women that made you?

Larissa R. Baia

President, Lake Region Community College

I am going to separate this a bit from who made me on a personal level, and who has impacted my professional self. On a personal side, my mother has four siblings, three of whom are women who were her birth siblings. A pretty typical occurrence in the Caribbean [Larissa is of Caribbean descent], I think, is that oftentimes women adopt children that are not necessarily their birth children, but they are children who at times are family members. In the case of my grandmother, she had two nieces who she adopted, so there is this group of six women who absolutely have been instrumental in making me the woman I am today. Not that other family members haven’t, but I think these women, and certainly, I’m counting my grandmother in there, too, were fiercely independent women, and at the same time, women of their time. When we think about what an independent woman might look like to us today, we may recognize that it may look different from what it was in the 1950s or in the 1940s.  My mom was born in the late 30s, so she grew up in the 40s and 50s; that was different, right? What independence looked like for a woman in the Dominican Republic was different from what it means to me today. 

These women bonded with each other, and supported each other in a way that the fact that they weren’t all siblings didn’t matter, they are all siblings in their minds, and have been, through all their trials and tribulations. I think that you can imagine what happened both in their personal lives and in their work lives. The constant in their relationship was what they have with each other.  That bond is one that they also instilled in their children. When we get together with that side of my family, it’s a very different experience than perhaps with my father’s side because of the intimacy, the ability to have unconditional love, to understand that sometimes silence in a moment is much more important than words.

I would certainly not have been, I think, as professionally driven, had it not been because of my mother and this group of women. Certainly, that group of women has shaped me –and it is funny because when they get together it is a hoot just to watch them as an outsider!  Now some are in their 80s, and I must tell you, they are going as strong as 40 years ago. I would say that group certainly speaks to my values, to my ambition and drive, and who I am as a person.

From a professional standpoint, I consider myself pretty lucky that I have had supportive female mentors in my life. I’ve heard stories of other females, who haven’t had that same experience.  Women have told me that they haven’t really had females in positions of authority who have been willing to mentor and to take the time to open up spaces for other women. 

That hasn’t been my experience.

The women that I’ve been fortunate to work for have really made a point to try to open up spaces for other women and for me specifically, and there are two specific women. One was my first supervisor when I entered higher education. She wasn’t my direct supervisor, but she was the head of the department. Her name is Dr. Karla Stein. She, I think, saw that I was ambitious, but that I was willing to put in the work and that I wasn’t going to expect things to come easily just because I wanted them. She certainly provided me with opportunities and gave me leeway to try avenues that otherwise wouldn’t have been there for me. 

Then more recently, Dr. Susan Huard, who was president of Manchester Community College for about almost 10 years and more recently, Interim Chancellor for the Community College System of New Hampshire. She’s just a rock star! I worked for her while at Manchester Community College. Although I didn’t necessarily always agree with her decisions, she has been a mentor, but also one that has been very intentional about caring about me as a person, not just as a professional colleague and who could open professional opportunities.  She’s also cared about me as a human and as a mother, and a wife.  She has always been very attentive to the fact that just because we work in an office with each other and you leave at six o’clock,- that person has other responsibilities, and that person has another life. She was very aware that the person also needs to be nurtured in order to succeed professionally.

When I think of this question, and the people that you obviously don’t want to leave out, I think of something you originally said that rang true to me. There are people who you meet, that you have interactions with, that you sometimes have nothing more than a very quick moment in your life and that interaction leaves marks. They may not make you who you are as a person, but they absolutely have taken a place in your life at a particular moment that has meaning and that has left an indelible mark.

 As I was thinking about that, I thought about a particular moment.

I have two children, one a daughter who is almost 20, and a son who’s 15. Our daughter caught a virus when she was about 4-years-old and she experienced Febrile seizures which landed her in the hospital. Febrile seizures, I didn’t know this at the time, but they are common when children are much younger.  By the time children get to 4 or 5 years old, they are not as common. The doctors were really concerned that she was having seizures for other reasons, and that made us have a week-long hospital stay. 

I think as you can imagine, this is my first child, and we didn’t know what was wrong with her. By this point, we had our son who was only months old, and I couldn’t be with him, because I had to be in the hospital with her. It was a very difficult time, and a nurse came to her room. She was a Filipino nurse, and she just sat with me for what seemed to be hours. I’m sure it wasn’t, but, at that moment of anxiety, when all you wanted was somebody to tell you that it was going to be okay and that your child was going to be fine, she didn’t have to say anything to me. That’s all she would do, just come in and check in on us and hold my hands and say, she’s going to be okay. 

I don’t know her name, but almost 15 years later, I remember that moment of somebody being so willing to share that moment of pain with another human and say, look, I’m a mom, too, and I just want you to know that she’s gonna be okay, and you’re gonna be okay, too. There are people like that. You may not have had a very extended interaction, but they have absolutely impacted your life in a positive way, and you just hope that at some point in your life, you can pay that forward, at least I do. I sent a thank-you to the hospital on our behalf, but I don’t know if she got it. I just hope that in some way I am able to continue to make a similar mark on somebody’s life, so that someone else can say ‘wow, that meant something to me.’

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About this Author

Constance Cherise

Constance Cherise is a freelance writer and contributor for Turner Classic MoviesSee her work here.