According to Merriam-Webster, “destiny” implies something foreordained and often suggests a great or noble course or end.
For Dystanie Smalls, whose first name is pronounced “destiny,” many predicted that her course would be a life of difficulty and hardship. In fact, some of the doctors in the neonatal intensive care unit where she spent five months did not expect her to leave the hospital alive. Born several months premature and weighing less than two pounds, Smalls was also beset with other health problems, including chronic lung disease, a severe brain bleed, and congenital hearing impairment.
Today, the 23-year-old UVI (University of the Virgin Islands) graduate states with confidence:
“The beginning is not the end. How you start the journey, is not necessarily how you will finish, and it may not even be how we envision it.”Dystanie Smalls
In addition to enduring multiple surgeries on her ears, and surgery to correct problems with her feet (also related to her premature birth), Smalls experienced bullying in school and other forms of social rejection from people who saw her “differences” as a liability, instead of something that made her special and unique. Thankfully, the strong, positive influences from her family and her faith strengthened Smalls’ determination to pursue her goals of helping and caring for others.
Smalls credits those early experiences, along with the inspiration of her godmother, a nurse at the St. Thomas hospital where she spent her critical first eight days of life being airlifted to Miami Children’s Hospital, helping steer her decision to pursue a career in nursing, and once enrolled at UVI, she found herself digging deep to call on those reserves to face the inevitable challenges of college.
“There were definitely some tough times, and even people in my path who said things that caused me to doubt if I could make it. I had to find the best way for me to go forward. It took a lot of self-awareness and reflection and I had to remind myself that this person doesn’t know what I’ve already been through, what I have overcome,” Smalls recalled.
Having survived the back-to-back Category five hurricanes that pummeled the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2017 with her family, Smalls, who is the Public Relations Officer for the Class of 2022, realized that even a setback such as an unforeseen delay in her academic progression could be a blessing in disguise.
“I had to learn to turn a negative experience into something that would fuel me to continue in the hardest times. I just had to keep pressing forward as much as I could,” she stated.
Smalls, who is partially deaf, wore hearing aids during her college experience to help improve her communication and allow her to focus more on processing the high-level, complex information she was studying.
With a solid support system in place, Smalls recognizes the importance of self-motivation and faith in keeping her on her path. “God does not see my challenges as limitations. They are steppingstones that helped me along my journey at UVI. I have found that this is a personal aspect I can share with patients and make it easier for me to communicate with them.”
Smalls graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a minor in psychology. She hopes to earn an advanced nursing degree and travel to explore and experience other cultures.
Having achieved this milestone, Smalls hopes her story can inspire others and have a deeper appreciation for her name: “that God destined for me to be here.”