By Bailey Hosfelt
New York born and bred, Fiona Leary, FCRH ’19, embodies excelsior with ease. The Latin motto meaning “ever upward” lends itself effortlessly from the state to Leary’s infectious personality, one of which a friend, acquaintance or even stranger can attest to.
Having grown up in one place, Leary credits her hometown of Albany for shaping who she is as a person.
“I am who I am because of Albany,” said Leary, highlighting the wide array of art, culture and people who coexist in the state capital. “The students and teachers from my high school are doing incredible work for not only Albany High but for the world. I am humbled to have learned from them.”
This sentimental appreciation for her roots is one all too familiar to college students who, like Leary, often do not acknowledge it until after moving away.
However, Albany gave Leary the tools to hit the ground running once she arrived at Fordham. As a political science and Middle East studies double major with a minor in Arabic, Leary has built her academic career on an overarching theme.
“I yearn to understand the unknown,” said Leary.
While her experience in local government working as a student representative to the Albany school board and legal assistant in the New York Senate inspired her studies of political affairs, Arabic came to her at the last second. As a freshman nearing the end of New Student Orientation, she transferred into the introductory class with one day to spare before the fall semester began.
“It’s the best decision I made in college,” said Leary, noting that the course gave her a group of best friends and a desire to learn not just the language, but the culture.
“We often get trapped within our own perspectives and parts of the world,” said Leary. “So I always try to challenge myself and ask the difficult questions, even if instead of producing answers, they create more questions.”
In an effort to gain insight about different parts of the world, Leary took part in GO! India over this past winter break. Her team partnered with the Missionaries for Charity, Little Sisters of the Poor, St. Xavier’s College and others to organize their service and immersion in Kolkata.
To say that the experience was life-changing for Leary would be an understatement, considering she said she could gush about GO! India for decades.
“India shook me,” said Leary, explaining that the GO! India trip has a reputation of “ruining your life,” due to the magnitude of crippling injustice and poverty that team members witness. “It rattled my soul, and I feel the biting need to return as soon as possible.”
Although the GO! trip, like her endeavors in Middle East studies, leaves Leary with more questions than answers, she is ready to grapple with what is difficult head-on, often turning to social advocacy.
Leary participated in New York’s Women’s March and, moments after stepping off her train at Grand Central, experienced an energy that she said was the strongest she has ever felt.
She quoted Thomas Jefferson’s infamous words that “when injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty,” adding that the march reminded her of democracy’s power.
“[The march] was humans fighting for humanity,” said Leary. “It was inexplicably beautiful.”
She upholds this energy, staying engaged on campus and off. Whether Leary is at a meeting for Arabic Club, serving you coffee at Rodrigue’s, advising freshman students alongside a faculty member or helping teach an ESL class at St. Rita’s Immigrant and Refugee Center, she makes a personal precedent to give back to the community.
With whatever free time she can find, Leary enjoys venturing deeper into the city for the food, concerts and museums, trying to explore at least once a week.
“I have a zest for the city and seeing as much of it as I can during my time here.”
While she cannot pick one favorite place in New York City, Leary does have a preferred subway line of choice: the D train, which she noted is a basic but honest answer.
“Once, I was lucky enough to meet a woman with hundreds of roses [who was] giving them out to everyone on the train,” said Leary. “Including me!”
Outside of academics and extracurriculars, Leary has more than a few talents up her sleeve. She plays guitar, paints and draws. She runs a hair salon out of her dorm room, a skill I can attest to as she gave me a haircut in the communal bathroom of South last year.
She maneuvers her way to the front of any and all mosh pits at concerts. She does, in her words, a “pretty solid” impersonation of Bernie Sanders, the kind of entertainment we all need considering our current political climate.
As for post-graduation plans, this second-semester sophomore is unsure of the specifics, but wants to pay forward the kindness and love she has been given.
“I genuinely love people and have so much to learn from them,” said Leary. “In whatever I do, I want to give what I can, learn all there is to learn and make an impact.”
With such a good head on her shoulders, and envy-worthy wisdom, we might wonder how Leary does it and by whom she is inspired. She said the answer is simple.
“I am, on a daily basis, astounded by how incredible my mother is.”
Her mother, a former journalist turned professor, motivates Leary to care deeply stay truthful and help others, whether the capacity be big or small.
“If I can one day become half the woman she is, I would be honored.”
For now, there is no question that Fiona Leary is already taking leaps in the right direction.