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A ‘drive to do good in the world’

Born in France, she’s an internationally oriented achiever

It’s difficult not to marvel at how many activities senior Léa Schmitt has been involved in while in high school.

“When I was in high school I couldn’t find matching socks some days,” recalled counselor Elle Bodnar with a laugh.

It doesn’t appear that even mismatched socks would slow Léa down, as she has taken full advantage of what East Grand Rapids has to offer. And when her interests have extended beyond the district, she’s followed them where they led, then made her own opportunities.

“Honestly, I really like leadership; I see it as fun,” she said. “Plus, I think it will help me in college and the workplace as well.”

Born in Paris, Léa and her family — dad, Eddy; mom, Susanne; and younger brother, Victor — moved to Grand Rapids from France in time for the last few weeks of her sixth-grade year at Breton Downs. She barely spoke English.

Lea jumped right into East’s culture, Bodnar said, learning the language, making friends and engaging through clubs and athletics.

In high school, Léa has been a member of the school’s tennis and field hockey teams. She is president of the crepe-making, cheese-tasting French club, founded the International Club to encourage other students to showcase their cultures, and is president of Model United Nations.

“It’s super fun to role-play as a country, and to collaborate with other students who are really motivated to go in-depth in their research,” she said. “When everybody studies their countries so thoroughly, then you can think of good compromises to solve world problems.”

Léa also participates in National Charity League, through which she recently combined her passion for photography and community service to raise $800 to donate to a local women’s shelter where she has volunteered.

“That was really rewarding, and also taught me how to advertise and make an event successful,” she said.

Léa Schmitt works with a student at the Refugee Education Center in Kentwood

Teaching and Learning from Refugees

Also rewarding has been tutoring at the Refugee Education Center in Kentwood, which she and her mother first learned about through a family friend.

Léa has made friends with students there who are close to her age, has taught some French to the younger students, and said she has picked up a bit of kinyarwanda, the national language of Rwanda.

“It’s a really eye-opening experience, really humbling,” she said. “We see how lucky we are at East Grand Rapids, but we also get to learn from them, about their lives and the ways they see the world.”

Léa certainly knows what it’s like to be a newcomer.

“To start over in a new country with a new language and new people when she was so young, her maturity and development were really accelerated,” Bodnar observed.

Even with all she has had going on while in high school, Léa said she has not felt overextended.

‘Honestly, I really like leadership; I see it as fun.’ — Léa Schmitt

“I don’t really get stressed, honestly. I’m really organized, so I just have to manage my time well.”

She has certainly had to manage her time while enrolled in the district’s International Baccalaureate program, the most rigorous academic pathway available to EGR students.

It appears all her pursuits will come together in the fall, when she will start classes in the Ross School of Business at University of Michigan. She was inspired to go into business by her dad, she said, and will minor in sustainability.

She envisions her future self as a consultant who “helps corporations be more sustainable, helping stop global warming.”

Her goals don’t surprise Bodnar in the least. She calls Léa “a kind, caring, determined individual, with a lot of drive to do good in this world.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.


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