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How Stetson Changed a Life

Fidalene “Fida” Leger ’19

Thanks to Stetson, Fidalene “Fida” Leger ’19 graduated this May with big dreams for the road ahead and some life-changing experiences in her rearview mirror.

She just never saw them coming.

“This university gave me a whole new worldview, which is something I never expected,” she said, just before officially receiving her degree. 

Leger is one of those students who knew what she wanted to do even before choosing a college. Growing up in South Florida, she’s had her eyes set on medicine since volunteering for a hospital in the city of Homestead, when she fell in love with the maternity ward, shadowing doctors and witnessing live births. So, the pursuit of “science” and “medical” was very much expected. 

Yet, even her selection of Stetson was a surprise. She made the choice after attending a Hatter Saturday. 

“I had planned to attend the University of Florida, but Stetson invited me for a late visit in 2015,” she remembered. “Stetson’s family atmosphere changed my mind. Everyone welcomed me and made me feel at home. I registered on the spot. I had no idea how impactful that Hatter Saturday would become.” 

Then the world opened up to her. 

One early turning point: When she needed an additional course for the Spring semester of her first year, her academic adviser recommended gender studies. And it didn’t take long for Leger to have a new passion, changing her minor right after finishing the course.

Stetson’s curriculum altered her entire outlook — awakening her feminism and shaping her personal philosophy. 

“The themes of equality intrigued me so much. Learning cultural differences and ethnic differences opened a new path of relating to the world,” Leger explained. “Seeing how gender discrimination, racial injustice and economic disparity affect the quality of health care and, in essence, human life, made me reconsider my mission in life.”

Leger credits Assistant Professor Kelly Smith, Ph.D. — whose areas of study include state politics and public policy, not medicine — as her most impactful teacher. She called Smith’s classes “inspirational,” making her “want to learn and to think critically” and showing that her “opinion was valid.” 

Leger: “Seeing how gender discrimination, racial injustice and economic disparity affect the quality of health care and, in essence, human life, made me reconsider my mission in life.”

Raised in the United States with strong ties to her Haitian family, Leger was horrified to learn about the medical conditions in Haiti, only a hundred miles away, and the lack of human and civil rights. That knowledge now drives her to make a difference. 

Becoming an ob-gyn always has been her goal; that hasn’t changed. But Leger found new purpose. As a result, she hopes to open health clinics in third-world countries to “give women and infants a chance.”

Toward that goal, Leger will be completing an internship this summer with Matthew Schrager, Ph.D., Stetson associate professor of health sciences, and then applying for graduate school.

In addition, campus inclusivity left impressions. “There are clubs and organizations for everyone, it seems: women, members of the LGBTQ community, Caribbean students, and anyone in a minority group can find something to join and belong to. This aspect is a model for my future business endeavors,” she said. “Inclusivity is a Stetson value, and it is now my value.” 

Finally, there was a connection to the library, which effectively brought together all things Stetson. Labeling the library as “an ideal place for students to learn,” Leger wound up working there, as an assistant at the circulation desk. That role also represented growth.

Generally outgoing, she wanted to put herself in an area to help as many people as possible, particularly first-year students. “To see people satisfied with the library is wonderful,” Leger commented. “I love the positive environment. It’s fed my soul.”

In the end, she learned at Stetson not only in the classroom, which isn’t a great surprise, but also by living many of those lessons on campus. Often unexpectedly. 

“My experience at Stetson has been much greater than I ever imagined it would be,” Leger concluded, simply. “And I will never forget it.”

-Hunter Murphy / Engagement and Learning Librarian, Stetson’s duPont-Ball Library

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