The graduate with the gift of faith

Guerda Julien knows the importance of perseverance. It’s a trait that radiated from the Parkview team member’s smile this past spring, when she walked on stage to receive a bachelor’s degree from IPFW, a feat many would have doubted possible 18 years ago.

Guerda was born on the island of Haiti, where she grew up with her 17 brothers and sisters. When she was 21, Guerda became a nun, serving as a teacher and principal for poor children living in the Haitian mountains. But in 2000 everything changed when an eye procedure left Guerda completely blind. While visiting family in the United States, a relative took her to see an eye doctor, who said her vision could be improved with additional procedures. Guerda decided to stay in the country.

She relocated to Ohio and picked right back up with her acts of service. Guerda ministered to inmates, cooked meals at the Salvation Army, and volunteered at a home for unwed mothers. Her surgeries were paying off as well. After five procedures, she was able to read large print and enroll in classes at Ivy Tech in Fort Wayne with the help of the TRIO SSS program.

She received her associate’s degree from Ivy Tech in 2013 and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from IPFW just a few months ago. All of this while working 55 hours a week at Easter Seals Arc, Park Center and as a mental health technician at Parkview Behavioral Health, as well as volunteering at the Rescue Mission, St. Jude’s School and Kiwanis.

Inspired by Guerda’s determination and selfless spirit, we asked her to share more about her journey. 

How did you cope with the loss of your vision?

It was very hard for me to accept the situation, but I was confident that I would recover my sight. I kept thinking about people who were born blind and I thanked God that I had sight in at least one eye. I could only see close objects with my left eye, so the most difficult thing was that it caused me to suffer injuries, since I couldn’t see things in the distance. I managed to deal with the impairment.

What were some of the challenges you faced in college and how did you overcome them?

When I was in the nursing program in Ohio, I finally gave up because the print in the medication books was too small. I had difficulty reading them and the visual impairment caused me to have difficulty focusing on the material.

During my clinical, I needed to do research about each medication and report it to my instructor before I passed the med to the patients. I had a magnifier, but when I had to do research for eight medications per patient it was difficult. Plus, I had other classes in addition to my clinical classes to study for. It was very challenging!

When they told me that my left eye was closing as a result of a narrow angle glaucoma and macular degeneration, and that I needed surgery immediately, I was devastated. I relocated to Fort Wayne to have my procedure done because most of my relatives live in Fort Wayne and I didn’t want them to have to make the trips back and forth to be with me. I am so grateful to the many doctors in Fort Wayne and Warsaw for doing an outstanding job and helping me regain my eyesight to be able to read large print. 

This journey lead me to enroll at Ivy Tech for my associate’s degree, and then at IPFW for my bachelor’s degree, which was so rewarding. I don’t have enough words to thank both schools. TRIO has supported me from the beginning to the end. They even gave me a person to take my notes, and to assist me in certain classes. The Disability Students Support Services allowed me enough time to take my exams and put all my books in my flash drive to read in large font. My instructors were also very supportive and made me large print handouts and exams.

What inspired you to work at Parkview Behavioral Health?

My love for people with mental illness, and the compassion I have for all humankind inspire me to work at PBH. As a missionary, my vocation is love and service. I am proud to be a part of the Parkview health system! 

What do you hope to accomplish next?

I would like to continue to work for Parkview Health, in the area of mental health, and to serve wherever there’s a need for psychology and human services. I plan to continue my education and obtain my master’s degree from the Organizational Leadership and Supervision Program at Purdue University Fort Wayne.

What would you tell someone facing a difficult diagnosis?

I would tell them to have faith, ambition and determination! I would also tell them to believe in themselves because all things are possible to them who believe!


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