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Class of 2021: Embracing Challenges

Miriam Chari knew she would fall every single time.

At 3 ½ years old with her legs barely long enough to get over a saddle, she’d do jumping exercises on a pony and would always fall off, even if the jump was mere inches off the ground.

“The routine was go to the lesson, get on the chubby pony, jump over something, fall off. Cry for a second, get back on,” said Chari. “And all I would say was, ‘Let’s do it again.’”

That wherewithal to see an obstacle, embrace it and eventually watch it crumble, has stuck with Chari. It’s a trait she needed it when she was 15 and moved with her family to Costa Rica for 18 months when her physician father helped establish a health care program for a small business.

It was with her when, at 17, her father’s health started failing and she moved with her older brother and sister to Atlanta to launch a music school in order to financially support her family when her father was unable to.

“I think the No. 1 thing that struck me was the diversity of the students that I saw,” said Chari

And it was with her when she left music — not just a big part of her life, but her livelihood — to pursue a degree in biology, ultimately leading to NC State College of Veterinary Medicine’s Class of 2021.

“I’ve learned how to deal with life when it doesn’t take the turns I expected it to take,” Chari said. “If I hadn’t been through what I did, it wouldn’t have pushed me to be what I want to be. It’s seeing why you stumble and then figuring out how to make a new path. And maybe it will be a path that’s even more interesting than the one you were on.”

It All Felt Right

Chari’s love of animals began with horses and at the CVM it continues with them. “When I’m with horses, I just get this calm,” she said. “It’s a feeling of this is where I’m meant to be.”

After earning a biology degree from Kennesaw State University, she applied to several vet schools, but following a visit to campus, NC State became her first choice. She was impressed with the curriculum and the campus.

It had a feeling of openness, she said.

“I think the No. 1 thing that struck me was the diversity of the students that I saw,” said Chari, who turns 34 this month. “I wasn’t going to be the only one that wasn’t early-20s, fresh out of undergrad. There were people who had gone through law school or had a Ph.D. or a master’s, and all of these previous careers. I found that really encouraging and fascinating and I really respected NC State for valuing that.”

She plans on an equine focus and is particularly interested in sports medicine, but she’s open to animals small and large. She also loves cats and dogs.

And cows.

While in school, she shadowed a large animal veterinarian and worked with cattle for the first time. “I was like, these are amazing beautiful creatures,” she said. “Every time I look at another animal, it’s another story for me to tell, another fascination for me.”

There have been two constants in Chari’s life — music and animals.

At the same she was busy falling off that pony, she was also plucking the strings of a violin for the first time. Those split interests came directly from her parents, her father, an emergency room physician, and her mother, a concert pianist with a deep love of animals.  “She said she knows in her soul being a vet is what i was always meant to do,” Chari said.

Chari grew up outside of Cleveland and both of her parents adored classical music. Her maternal grandfather, Daniel Majeske, was the the concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1969 until his death in 1993. Like Chari, he played the violin.

The animals were always there, too. When Chari’s mom, Sharon, wasn’t playing the piano, she bred and raised Himalayan cats as a family business. At one point, there were upwards of 20 cats in the Chari house.

When she was 9, her family moved to Camden, S.C., where her father, Ragu, directed a hospital’s ER. The family lived on a small farm where they boarded horses, and Chari would spend time getting to know the vets who visited the property. She watched the birth of a foal and was left amazed.

The other big change was moving to Costa Rica in the middle of high school. The family was there for 18 months, until her dad’s health started to fail. Born with a heart valve defect, he had his first open heart surgery before his youngest daughter was born. His health declined so rapidly that he could no longer support the family financially. He would later need to have a heart valve replaced.

So, with her two siblings, Sarah and Joshua, the “little power team,” she said, Chari moved to the Atlanta area to open Music by Tritone, offering violin, piano and cello lessons, among other instruments, as well as a recording studio.

“It was definitely one of those things where you kind of just throw yourself in the deep end and you just have to swim,” Chari said. “My dad loved taking care of us; he always saw it as his responsibility, so it was really tough for him on that level.”

Ragu died in 2012. Chari said he would have been thrilled that she was entering vet school.

“He would have said, keep going. You can get through this,” she said. “He would say, go for it.”

When Chari enrolled in Kennesaw in 2012, the siblings’ business was a big success. She got married in 2009 to Dante Ha, a stuntman who has worked on a long list of high-profile TV shows and movies, including “The Walking Dead,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Fate of the Furious.”

“There was a lot in my life that made me happy, but I wasn’t happy completely,” Chari said.

It was animals that made her happy. They always had, she realized. Chari started volunteering at Zoo Atlanta, assisting in a variety of enrichment programs and learning more about world wildlife conservation efforts involving many different species from great apes to, yes, horses.

With the encouragement of family, especially her siblings and husband, she entered Kennesaw with an initial goal of exploring various science fields. By the end of the first year, she knew she wanted to be a vet. She was still teaching music (she was seeing students up to two months ago), but also got a job as a veterinary assistant at a local clinic. It was a lot to do all at once, but it all felt right.  

It also felt right when she was shadowing that veterinarian in rural Blue Ridge, Ga. When vet school gets tough, she’ll think about her own toughness, but she’ll also remember riding with him in his truck and what he told her about being a vet.

“He told me that I’m going to have good days and bad days,” Chari said. “But he said when you drive up to a beautiful farm and you see these amazing animals, there’s a moment where you just take a deep breath and think, I am the luckiest person in the world.”

 Following the class of 2021:

Miriam Chari is the final profile in a series of seven showcasing the diverse, passionate and accomplished minds of the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2021.

Read the other Class of 2021 profiles: 

~Jordan Bartel/NC State Veterinary Medicine