Though traditionally a rite of passage, Southern’s December commencement exercises had special significance for graduate nursing major Carmen Martell, who has overcome great adversity in her 32 years. “This is my first graduation,” says Martell, who was pregnant at 18 and never participated in her high school graduation. “I didn’t attend graduation at [the University of] Saint Joseph’s where I earned my undergraduate degree. I was so depressed because I didn’t have any family to attend.
“That’s why today is so amazing,” says Martell, who completed her degree in August. “I told all my classmates, ‘We have to be at graduation.’ We made it, and I need to make those memories.”
A nurse who has been practicing for nine years, Martell certainly has overcome great obstacles. At the age of 9, she lost her mother to suicide. She was the youngest of four sisters living in Hartford, and the siblings were separated, with Martell sent to live with a foster care family in Rhode Island. “We never rekindled that bond. I don’t have any [biological] family,” she says matter-of-factly.
Martell would ultimately move from foster home to foster home until, at the age of 15, she emancipated herself and found her own apartment and a job. A foster mother kept in touch and helped with some budgeting issues, but it was rough going, and Martell dropped out of high school.
But Maurice Narcisse, her social worker with the Department of Children and Families, wouldn’t let her give up — and was on hand at Southern to watch her accept her graduate degree. “He’s been there throughout my life . . . the longest connection I’ve ever had. I call him my brother,” says Martell.
Narcisse helped add structure to Martell’s life. She attended an adult education program and earned her high school diploma. College eventually followed. She attended Capital Community College and then the University of Saint Joseph, where she received a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
“The nurses I know are my friends and family,” says Martell, who is now an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). Notable among those Martell thinks of as family is Vanessa Pomarico-Denino, interim director of the Family Nurse Practitioner Program at Southern. “I can call her at any time to talk about issues . . . not academic concerns but other things related to my career or life. . . . She is my mentor.”
Martell concedes that it was sometimes difficult to balance motherhood, the graduate nursing program’s challenging coursework, and her career. Her son has special needs, and she held a full-time job until April. She credits her professors, classmates, and her fiancé for helping her to make it through. “He’s wonderful. He’s been my backbone,” she says, proudly showing her engagement ring.
Today, Martell’s future looks decidedly bright. The day after commencement, Martell was slated to complete orientation for her new position as a family nurse practitioner at a CVS Minute Clinic. “I provide pediatric and adult care and get a lot of fulfillment out of being able to help patients and their families. . . . I find I can relate to people, including those going through difficult times, having gone through tough periods in my life.”