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Six to Remember: Stephanie Fernandes

05/12/11
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Stephanie Fernandes (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: May 12, 2011

Stephanie Fernandes

Hometown: Steubenville, Ohio

Major: Communication, minor in philosophy

Notable Activities/Achievements: Screaming Eagles Marching Band; University Chorale; Liturgy Arts Group; Salt & Light; Order of the Cross and Crown; president of Lambda Pi Eta (honor society for communication students); elected to Phi Beta Kappa; top GPA for BC communication major.

Post-graduation Plans: Has internship with National Disability Rights Network. Plans to attend law school in the fall, and specialize in education law and child advocacy.

Overview: Blind from birth, Fernandes has relied on a different kind of vision: one of herself as a strong, independent woman. She has realized this through her devotion to academics, service, music and faith, and by a winning spirit — she likes to call it “feistiness” — that has impressed friends, peers, teachers and mentors alike. As a freshman, Fernandes wasn’t convinced she could make it at BC, but with graduation less than two weeks away she reflects on a college career full of challenges and triumphs, from learning to play Irish fiddle to ministering for prison inmates.

Q: What have been some of the most meaningful experiences for you at BC?

There have been a lot, but my activities with the Liturgy Arts Group and Salt & Light stand out in particular, because my faith is very important to me. Going with LAG to MCI-Framingham, and being able to sing Mass and share our faith with prisoners was incredible. We also did the same for the retired priests at Regina Cleri. I love the connection between music and ministry.

Through Salt & Light, I helped lead retreats for high school students, which gave me the opportunity to hang out with complete strangers — one of my favorite things to do.

Q: So, somehow during your years at BC you found time to learn how to play Irish fiddle — you even got to do a solo at the Arts Festival this year. How did this happen?

I started playing violin when I was in second grade, but by the time I got to BC I wasn’t doing it so much anymore, and I missed it. A friend of mine I’d known from church choir had taken the Irish fiddle class here from [Sullivan Artist-in-Residence] Seamus Connolly, and suggested I try it, so I signed up in the second semester of freshman year.
Irish music was completely different than what I’d been playing before — it was so fast, and there were so many notes. And people would tell me, “You don’t have to play all the notes,” and I’d say, “But that’s what I’m used to!” It was definitely challenging, but I enjoyed it, and Seamus was wonderful to work with. I was kind of the comic relief for the class, because I’d play loud and everyone could hear my mistakes. But I didn’t mind: The louder you play, the better you can hear yourself; and it brings up the comfort level for everyone else.

Q: You’ve identified law as your future occupation. How did you develop this interest?

It goes all the way back to fourth grade. My parents and I wanted me to go into my school’s accelerated program, but they wouldn’t let me because of my blindness. My mother — who’s even more feisty than I am — was going to take them to court, and the school agreed to a compromise that involved me having to go to Pittsburgh and take an IQ test. In the end, I did get into the accelerated program, but I thought it was unfair that I had to go through all this.

From then on, I was always attuned to issues of unfairness and inequality, especially where children are concerned. But I also realized I had an incredibly supportive community of family, friends and neighbors, and not every child is so fortunate. So my education was never about me, but what skills and knowledge I could bring back with me that would make a difference. And I came to believe that going into education law and child advocacy offered a concrete way to affect people’s lives for the better.

Q: Which people have been the biggest influences for you at BC?

Again, so many: Bonnie Jefferson and Dale Herbeck in the Communication Department, Marina McCoy in Philosophy and Stephen Pope in Theology, Meyer Chambers in the Liturgy Arts Group — and I’ve loved my roommates.

Some of the greatest people I’ve met at BC are the dining hall cashiers. Sometimes you don’t realize how much a simple “Hello” can mean to you. Often that “Hello” will lead to a conversation, and then you learn about their children and grandchildren — which one plays soccer, which one is learning the violin, which one is getting married. As students, we’re lucky to have such a strong, caring community around us.

That sense of community can be more important than you think. My first year at BC was difficult: There were some miscommunications and things that just went wrong — nobody’s fault, it was simply what happened. I thought for sure I would not only have to transfer from BC, but that I would fail. So I was really surprised to see how well I had done at the end of the year. And it was definitely because I had a good support network in place.

To read our next "Six to Remember" student profile, Heights editor, Matt DeLuca, click here.