Secretly, Eliana Ramage always knew she wanted to be a writer. She would never admit that, though, especially at Dartmouth, because writers don’t make money. It’s not practical – there’s rent to cover, groceries to buy, loans to pay off. Plus, it seems ambitious, no? But Eliana is a writer. She started when she was fourteen years old, writing nonfiction personal narratives. Her freshman year at Dartmouth, she took her first creative writing class, where she was subjected to a fiction unit – she had to make her own plot, write in-scene. The first story she wrote, she used a story about her own life, but changed just enough of the details to pass it off as fiction. When that turned out to be kind of fun, she started writing fiction regularly. She took another creative writing class. And another. Now, at age 30, Eliana is working on the third draft of her first fiction novel.
Outside of writing classes, Eliana struggled. She spent the majority of her freshman year learning that none of the things she had thought were good enough were actually good enough. Like the way she studied for tests, or the way she wrote essays. None of it was at the level it needed to be. When she took astronomy her freshman fall, she was supposed to find a lab group, but she didn’t. And she was supposed to read the textbook, but she didn’t get the book until the night before her first exam. And then she stayed up all night “studying” – meaning she sat and read through all of the chapters she was supposed to read up until that point for the first time – and fell asleep at four am. When she woke up in the morning, she thought she could either sit the exam, and do poorly, or she could skip it. So she skipped the exam. And then, because she didn’t really know what to do, she skipped a lot of class periods in a row after that. After a few weeks, she went to NAP director Michael Hanitchak’s office. He helped her withdraw from the course, even though the deadline to do so had passed, and let her know that even though she had messed up a little in this class, she did belong at Dartmouth, and she could do it.
People like Michael Hanitchak were the reason Eliana chose Dartmouth in the first place. She was a junior in high school when she was invited to attend College Horizons at Duke University – a three day program for Native students where they receive college counselling and help planning for the future. Here, Eliana met a number of Native recruitment and admissions officers from different schools, including Phil Gover from Dartmouth College. At the time, Eliana planned on getting a four year college education. She thought she might even like to go out of state for college. But Dartmouth was not something she had even considered.
“Something he said changed everything,” Eliana said. “Somehow that one conversation with him that was like ten minutes long, he made it sound like [attending Dartmouth] was an actual possibility. It just hadn’t occurred to me [before that] that it was a possibility.”
After College Horizons, Eliana applied for and was accepted to the Native Fly-in program at Dartmouth. In her eyes, the Fly-in program was incredibly successful. Most of the people she met at Fly-in ended up applying to Dartmouth, and some of them are still good friends of hers to this day. She loved the staff, faculty, and students she met at Fly-in so much that she applied Early Decision to Dartmouth.
“I felt taken care of by everyone [in NAD],” Eliana said. “By the staff people, by the NADs – somehow the people who were my age too, I felt like we were taking care of each other somehow.”
At first, Eliana was really happy at Dartmouth. But she was also really shy. And as other students made friends and formed social groups, Eliana got a little lonely.
“I had a tendency at that age to take my shyness and project it onto other people,” Eliana said. “So if I’m the one who's scared of going out and scared of drinking, then instead of me being like, I'm the one who's coming to this situation not wanting to do those things, I was like, all those other people are being unfriendly. In retrospect, I think they were very friendly. I remember all of these people on campus being kind to me. I just had so much self consciousness in every situation.”
For a while, Eliana was so unhappy that she wanted to transfer. But she had a small group of friends in the NAD community with whom she felt comfortable, with whom she felt like she belonged. In her senior year, a few of her friends confided in one another that they had all wanted to transfer their freshman year. Eliana hadn’t told anyone before that, but was relieved when she learned they felt the same.
“My shyness got in the way in the general Dartmouth community, but I always felt at home with NAD,” Eliana said. “I could count on having a place to start from, and that gave me the confidence to start to see what else there was at Dartmouth that I could love.”
Eliana remembers being on her paper route for The D early one morning, and running into an older NAD girl. She wasn’t close with this NAD girl – they actually didn’t know eachother much at all. But she recognized Eliana as a fellow NAD, and stopped to talk to her about something that was bothering her.
“I was taken aback that she would trust me like that and be open to talking to me about what she was going through, just from the recognition that we were both NADs and without knowing each other we at least had that,” Eliana said. “I had a lot of little experiences like that, of other people being kind and open to me, and that modeled for me that this was a place where I could push through my shyness and find a lot of people to love.”
Within the NAD community, Eliana participated in weekly NAD meetings, women’s group – where NAD women hung out to do things like watch the weekly airing of Supernatural – and occasional programming opportunities like dance practice in the months leading up to powwow.
Nearly ten years later, Eliana visited one of her best friends whom she met at the Dartmouth Native Fly-in 13 years ago. She’s grateful for Dartmouth and the people she met there.
“The teaching and the faculty were incredible, and I don't know that I ever would have written fiction if I hadn't taken O'Malley's creative writing class in my first year,” Eliana said. “Dartmouth helped me grow into someone far more confident and outgoing, and it made me realize the importance of my Native identity and how I engage with it, and it gave me permission to be a writer. I didn't really ask for those things when I was applying to college, but they're so crucial to who I am now.”