Oct 01, 2022

Many Voices, One Tuck: Meet Hazem Ibrahim T’23 & Fernando Leyva MHCDS’23

By Tuck Communications

Members of the Tuck community reflect on their goals, accomplishments, inspirations, and passions in honor of Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month.

Hazem Ibrahim T’23

Hazem Ibrahim T’23

Describe an ah-ha moment for you—a defining moment that changed the course of your life, career, or altered your way of thinking.

During my second-round interview for The Posse Scholarship, I was asked to bring an object that I felt represented me. I already thought there had been a mistake (surely, I hadn’t made it to the second round) and I couldn’t think of anything to bring. Though worried, I thought, “You know what, I’ll just go in and be myself. I know I don’t have much to offer, but maybe I can speak about my experiences.”

As I was waiting to be called in, I saw one candidate walk out of the room with a cello, his parents meeting him in the waiting room. Another candidate entered with an impressive bundle of books. Filled with doubt, I started thinking I was in way over my head. I felt so silly for even trying. “I’m sitting here alone, my mom waiting in the car because we can’t afford parking, and I have nothing to show,” went through my head. My credentials weren’t great, I had no extracurricular activities, and my ACT/SATs were awful.

When I eventually got called in, I handed them my high school transcript—an exposé of how painfully average my academics were—and answered some questions. When asked what my object was, I said, “I’m sorry I have nothing to show today, but after giving it some thought, I think what makes me me are my stories and experiences. I would love to share those if that’s ok.” I spoke about how I came to learn the values of community, appreciation, and resourcefulness, having grown up with very little. I left all of me, the real me, on the table. 

The Posse Foundation saw potential that I hadn’t. I moved on to the final round and eventually received the scholarship. This was my ah-ha moment. It made me realize that experiences can truly have an outsized impact. This ah-ha moment led to me graduating cum laude with a triple major in finance, accounting, and economics. I learned that authenticity and being real with yourself can expand your world of possibilities and help you see things you may have not previously.

Describe a challenge you encountered in your life and/or career, how you were able to overcome it, and what you learned.

When I started college, I found it difficult to relate to my classmates. My experience as a half-Egyptian, half-Nicaraguan from Hialeah, an immigrant city in the broader Miami area, was a distant experience from that of my predominantly white classmates at Syracuse. 

I never had much trouble making friends, and I was off to an ok start at the beginning of the year. However, I greeted a new friend with a kiss on the cheek—a custom I had grown up with—and nearly got smacked. At that moment, I realized just how far I was from home. 

While de-escalating the situation, I wondered if my friend was being ignorant or perhaps overreacting. I thought maybe this person didn’t share the same values as me. Those thoughts ceased as I noticed how thoughtful and understanding they were as I shared why I was leaning in. They were intrigued and continued asking more about my background. 

I quickly learned that these differences are an opportunity to share my story and learn about others. It helped me be more aware of how I grew up and my cultural nuances. Likewise, it has given me a better approach to understanding those of others.

What does diversity, equity, and inclusion mean for you today, and in your words, why is it so critical?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion means recognizing and embracing the richness of the human experience. It means staying curious about others while maintaining a strong sense of self-awareness. By broadening our perspectives and deepening our understanding of what drives us, we can make better decisions for today and the future. 

Just as a parent or mentor recognizes and provides guidance on challenges they’ve faced, DEI is our collective recognition of our challenge. This is critical to ensure we are providing thoughtful, intentional opportunities for the next generation to continue being stewards of progress.

I am the youngest of 3 brothers and grew up in Hialeah, Florida—a city located in the broader Miami area. I am passionate about sharing my Hispanic culture and learning about others, especially through food and travel. I love cooking and hosting people for dinner. Fortunately, I also enjoy staying active by running, going to the gym, or playing sports.

Fernando Leyva MHCDS’23

Fernando Leyva MHCDS’23

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Professionally I am most proud of becoming a physician. Despite it being a childhood dream, I almost didn’t apply to medical school. I had been told that I wasn’t smart enough or disciplined enough for a career in medicine. But I worked and studied hard and have had an incredibly successful and fulfilling career. I think I have the best profession in the world!

Describe an ah-ha moment for you—a defining moment that changed the course of your life, career, or altered your way of thinking.

My first job out of college was teaching science and Spanish at a high school for at-risk youth. My students struggled with life circumstances I couldn’t imagine and yet they managed to come to school almost every day and find reasons to smile, laugh, and try new things. 

I often say that they taught me so much more than I could have taught them. And, as much as I enjoyed education, my students helped me realize that I could do more for them and their communities by pursuing my own dreams of becoming a primary care physician.

Who do you most admire and look up to? Who inspires you and why?

My parents are my heroes. Both are Cuban immigrants who came to the United States in the late 1950s to escape Castro’s regime. As with many immigrant stories, neither spoke English when they arrived, were separated from family, and had no money. Through amazing determination and hard work, they both built prosperous careers in service and provided my sister and me with love and support. My father used to frequently tell us, “The United States is the land of opportunity, but opportunity is disguised as hard work.” I am so proud of them and so grateful for their sacrifices and the values they instilled in me.

Describe a challenge you encountered in your life and/or career, how you were able to overcome it, and what you learned.

During medical school orientation, I found myself in an elevator with another student who angrily suggested that the only reason I’d been accepted was because I was a “Hispanic minority.” I admit his words shook me and caused me some insecurity in my first year. 

I’d heard similar comments before and have heard them since. I no longer let them affect me, but I find it sad and frustrating that some find it necessary to minimize the accomplishments of others in this way.

In your opinion, what makes a good leader?

Leadership qualities that I most value include humility, empathy, connectedness, communication, transparency, self-awareness, courage, and adaptability. I believe that successful leaders must be able to assess people, teams, and situations (sense the culture) and adapt their leadership styles accordingly. Effective leaders value people. They listen, communicate, collaborate, coach, and pay attention to details.

Dr. Leyva is the son of Cuban immigrants who fled communist Cuba in the 1950s. He holds a B.S. from Davidson College, an M.S. from UNC Wilmington, and an M.D. from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Dr. Leyva joined the Navy in 1997 where he has spent 25 years as a physician and healthcare leader in both traditional healthcare settings and while deployed across the globe in support of Navy operations. He currently serves as Chief Medical Officer for 1st Marine Logistics Group in California where he lives with his wife and 4 children.

Many Voices, One Tuck (MVOT) celebrates the stories of our vibrant and diverse community. What’s your story? Email DEI at Tuck if you’d like to contribute to the MVOT project.

Note: MVOT is open to members of the Tuck community, including students, alumni, faculty, staff, TEE and Tuck Bridge participants, and MHCDS graduates.