After years of hard work and always believing in herself, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi tribal member and Union Grove High School student Eva Ballew says she was taken by complete surprise when her phone rang and was told she was accepted to Harvard.
“I have to admit, in some ways it hasn’t even hit me yet,” Ballew told Indian Country Today. “When the admissions representative called me it was just unexpected. But I will say I don’t think I’ve ever had such a feeling of fulfillment. I was just so happy.”
In addition to applying to Harvard, Ballew also applied to nine other highly-regarded colleges and universities, including the University of Notre Dame, Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, Boston College, Georgetown, Vanderbilt, Columbia and Princeton.
In her conversation with Indian Country Today, Eva Ballew spoke a bit about her own tribal and family history. She told how her grandmother was a student at the Mount Pleasant Indian Boarding School and because she could not speak english was given the name of Elizabeth Rose. Her grandmother struggled but persisted, yet eventually died from tuberculosis.
“My grandmother’s story was my motivation to succeed,” said Ballew. “I have since learned that if you work very hard using the resources you have, you can make something with your life.”
Ballew says she also recognizes that statistics and history are not always in the favor of Native Youth.
“I think 67 percent of Native students graduate from high school which is far less than the rest of high school teens who graduate at about 82 percent. That first figure is even a smaller number when you factor in Bureau of Indian Education schools which is about 53 percent.”
(Associate Editor’s note: We double-checked recent statistical reports, and Eva Ballew stated these statistics right on the money. Look out Harvard...)
Ballew also noted Andrew Jackson’s role in the Indian Removal Act and how her tribe was affected by the “Trail of Tears” and “Trail of Death.” She also noted that Notre Dame -- one of the schools she wanted to attend -- was built on her own tribal lands based on promises the Pokagon would be granted free educations, a promise not held by the school.
“Notre Dame founded their University on our own land with a promise to provide an education. So we welcomed them.”
Considering she has worked so hard and maintained a 4.3 GPA, she is taking advanced placement courses, is involved in AHANA, an organization for students of African, Hispanic, Asian and Native American descent and participates on the student council. She is a member of the National Honor Society, and received a scholarship to study at Carnegie Mellon last summer. She also plays the classical piano.
“Harvard is getting a top kid,” Union Grove High School Principal Tom Hermann said to the Journal Times. “Eva embodies the traits of an accomplished scholar. She is extremely conscientious and consistently goes above and beyond on her studies. She is living proof that if you work hard, your dreams can come true.”
Eva Ballew’s mother Monica Brazaeu told the Journal Times that her daughter won the Super Bowl of college admissions.Ballew says that she recognizes Native youth come from many different backgrounds with different levels of available resources. She told Indian Country Today that they all deserved to succeed.“For any Native youth who might hear this, the biggest thing I will say is that you deserve happiness. You deserve success, euphoria and deserve to attend a good school or to be a part of a productive and strong workforce. We have survived generations of oppression that is passed on to us,” she said.“But we are deserving. We are worth it. We can do better for ourselves. My parents taught me -- I was worth it.”
Ballew also appeared on the online radio show Native Trailblazers Friday May 4th.
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor and senior correspondent, Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on TwitterFollow @VinceSchilling
Disclosure: Vincent Schilling is a co-host of the radio program.