Photo illustration by Jake Weir/B&W Staff

Edit desk: The strongest person I know

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Ariana Dimitrakis

My middle name is Andreoula. It was supposed to be my first name, but my mom turned it into Andrea, then Adrianna and finally Ariana. She didn’t like the name Andreoula for me, but I am proud to say it’s in my full name because I got it from my grandmother.

Born in Flassou, a small Greek village in Cyprus, in 1944, my grandmother wasn’t given many opportunities. Instead, she made them herself.

Her childhood home only had four rooms — three small bedrooms and a kitchen. She was the only daughter in her family and had four brothers. Her only sister died at two months old.

In a traditional village and male-dominated family, being a girl was a challenge for her. It was her responsibility to clean and cook for everyone, but she had a greater plan in mind — she wanted to go to school.

Not many girls in her village went to school and, if they did, they usually didn’t finish. Grateful for the opportunity, my grandmother walked miles every day to learn. While all the girls in her village were getting married, she was graduating.

Her family supported her, but they expected her to carry on with her life in a traditional manner once her schooling ended. When this time came, she had to make a choice — either stay in her village and get married, or leave for college.

A girl continuing her education in that time and country was unheard of. College was for young men only, but she wasn’t going to give in.

Despite the reactions of her village and family, she left home for the first time and went to college in Athens, Greece. The only person who accepted her decision was her father, who said he would support her as long as she used her education to become a teacher. 

During her first year in Athens, she met my grandfather, but she refused to marry him until she graduated college. In the meantime, her family tried arranging for her to marry someone else, but she wouldn’t agree. She waited to get married by her own choice and to someone she loved.

After starting a family, my grandparents moved to New York, where challenges only grew for them. A big factor was their language barrier, since they only knew how to communicate in Greek.

Because of this, my grandma was informed her degree wasn’t useful. She needed to attend more school and learn English in order to teach in the U.S. 

But she didn’t come this far to give up. She earned another degree to become a Greek school teacher, then she mastered the English language and became an English teacher.

Fast forward to summer 2019. A tumor was found in her brain. She was in surgery a week later.

“Expect her to be in the NICU for three days post operation,” the doctors said. 

After three weeks and multiple seizures later, she was finally moved to the general ICU.

It didn’t matter what language she knew anymore, she couldn’t speak at all. She couldn’t walk, and the entire right side of her body was paralyzed. The doctors said she would get better, but not for another year or two, maybe longer because of her age.

Eight months after the surgery, she came to visit me at Lehigh. “I can walk,” she said, leaving her walker in the car and taking steps toward me.

Her life story has always inspired me, but that moment confirmed that she is the strongest person I know. She has always been a fighter, not only for her life, but in choosing how she got to live her life.

When I hear Andreoula, I hear the name of a woman who went against society’s morals and took great risks to follow her own choices. 

She continued her education. She didn’t accept an arranged marriage. She overcame any obstacles that appeared in her path, and she did it all with disregard to anyone else’s approval.

Her story has changed my perspective on life, and it has empowered me to become the brave and independent woman that I am today.

Ariana Dimitrakis is the deputy lifestyle editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]

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