Even at an early age, Merisa Aranas Pasternak (’91) was aware of the impact the people around her had on her life. Today, the Tulane School of Medicine Director of Anesthesiology and Radiology credits both the people she surrounds herself with and the emotional intelligence she’s developed over the years for her strong career in public health/health policy and management, and she credits LSMSA for building her strong foundation of critical thinking skills.
As the only student in her Baton Rouge elementary school’s gifted program, Merisa recalls her school counselor’s recommendation that she consider attending “this brand new gifted high school/boarding school in North Louisiana.” When her family moved to Lake Charles and her new school was less challenging and less diverse, applying to LSMSA became even more appealing.
“When I went to Louisiana School, I found my kind,” recalls Merisa. “Between the increased diversity and the gifted environment, I was excited to be surrounded by classmates from all over the state. I also was grateful to have more classmates that looked like me. I was definitely not the smartest in my class, not by a long shot. I was just so happy to be around so many bright and talented classmates.”
After LSMSA, Merisa attended Agnes Scott College and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Classical Studies and Art History. She then attended Emory University and received a Masters of Public Health in Health Policy and Management. As senior class president, Merisa is still a huge cheerleader for her classmates and excited about everyone’s accomplishments, large and small.
“These days, just getting out of bed and thriving during a pandemic is a huge accomplishment,” she says, noting her envy that some classmates have already retired from their careers.
“I am in the large company of those who have a deep love and appreciation for this school,” Merisa says fondly. “Because of that, giving back to LSMSA is incredibly important to me.”
Although Merisa’s husband Ryan learned about LSMSA after moving to Louisiana as an adult, he is constantly impressed with the bright and prepared LSMSA graduates he teaches as medical students or pediatric residents at LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans.
“I get so excited when he comes home and tells me one of his med students or Peds residents is an LSMSA graduate,” says Merisa.
When the 1983 Society was formed to recognize those contributing $1,983 or more to the school each year, Merisa and Ryan became charter members. For the past ten years, they have continued to prioritize setting aside an annual donation of at least $1,991 to commemorate the year Merisa graduated.
“We don’t live close to Natchitoches and can never make visits to LSMSA, or volunteer on campus as often as I would want. Donating to the school is my way of showing my support and love. It’s wonderful to know our donations to LSMSA make more of an impact than they would to larger schools,” said Merisa. “I’ve been fortunate to be a recipient of various scholarships during my studies. I feel an obligation to give back. I never want any child to be prohibited from attending and enjoying LSMSA simply because of finances. There are other financial obligations, besides room and board, that students and their parents must meet, and these funds can help fill that gap.”
LSMSA became a true family affair for Merisa when her brother Aaron Aranas (‘92) joined her on campus. Aaron’s daughter Leah is applying this year as well.
While Merisa will forever be grateful for the wealth of knowledge she received from her professors, she continues to marvel at the strong relationships she is still able to build with fellow alumni.
“I’m embarrassingly outgoing at times. I saw a guy who was wearing an LSMSA sweatshirt at Whole Foods the other day,” said Merisa. “I stopped him and started asking the usual questions: ‘What year? Where’s your hometown? Whatcha doing now’ It’s as if I’m trying to relay to him ‘If you need anything, I’m around. We’re going to be friends.’ Poor guy, he didn’t know what was coming.”
Merisa has defined success differently throughout various periods of her life.
“Nowadays, it means to constantly be a student, to want to learn from others, use one’s superpowers for good, not evil -- and strive to be a really decent, good, human being,” she says. “LSMSA was a hard and challenging school full of talented and sometimes misunderstood, smart misfits. We’ve turned out to be OK. I’m incredibly proud to be part of that school.”
To join Merisa’s family in giving back to LSMSA, click here
. If you would like more information on becoming a 1983 Society member, please contact the Foundation at [email protected]