International student overcomes adversity, pursues dream at Newman

Oct 20, 2022
First-year Newman University student Elginique Dames (courtesy photo)

First-year student Elginique Dames may have grown up on the main tropical island of the Bahamas, but her life hasn’t always been warm and sunny.

Her father, who worked as a police officer, was shot and killed in his driveway when Elginique was just 4 years old.

From then on, it was just Elginique, her younger sister and her mother. There will always be times when Elginique wonders what life would be like if her father were still alive, but she is proud of her mom for going above and beyond in their single-parent household.

“My mom made sure my sister and I had the best education and everything we needed,” Elginique said. “She was basically our mom and our dad at the same time.”

When she received both basketball and academic scholarships to attend Life Preparatory Academy in Wichita, Elginique left her family — mom, sister, aunts and uncles — as well as the beautiful beaches and Caribbean food of the Bahamas behind. She was only 15, and because of the travel limitations that came with the pandemic, Elginique traveled to a country she’d never before visited without any family members to help her transition to the new culture.

Elginique Dames after graduating from Life Preparatory Academy (courtesy photo)
Elginique Dames after graduating from Life Preparatory Academy (courtesy photo)

“I kept thinking I was going to come back home for Christmas break, but because of COVID it didn’t happen and I haven’t been home in almost four years now,” Elginique said. “It’s been hard to be away from my family that long. When most had their parents to help move them into dorm rooms, my mom couldn’t be here, so I had to buy my own books and show up to school by myself.”

Elginique was salutatorian of her graduating high school class and was the first Bahamian of Life Prep to receive the honor. She was 1,400 miles away from her family; her relatives watched the ceremony from home.

“All of my family gathered in one room to watch my salutatorian speech together,” Elginique said. “They then sent me the video with them watching altogether. I even gave my mom a shout-out in my speech, saying, ‘Look, Mom, I made it!’ To this day, my mom still watches the video.”

She added, “I think that made her proud, knowing that all her hard work and sacrifices for me weren’t in vain.”

Video: Elginique Dames’ salutatorian speech (Courtesy video)

Discovering her passion

In 2018, Elginique was diagnosed with nevus sebaceious of Jadassohn, a harmartoma, or abnormal growth, that affects the skin of the scalp.

“I was actually born with it, and at first it was just a bald spot that the doctor said would eventually grow hair,” she explained. “My mom and I didn’t think much of it, but then in 10th grade, I started to get terrible headaches. The hair products I used would burn my skin, so it became pretty painful.”

When Elginique met the doctor before her surgery to remove the harmatoma, she was immediately felt comforted.

“Usually doctors just come in, do the surgery and leave, but she was there with me and reassured me, gave me the confidence that I’d be alright,” Elginique said.

This seemingly simple interaction inspired Elginique to enter the field of medicine.

“I just like taking care of people,” she said. “When my friends are sick, my first instinct is to take care of them and help them feel better.”

A new beginning at Newman University

At Newman, Elginique is a biology major with a concentration in pre-medicine. After she graduates in 2026, she plans to attend the University of Kansas Medical Center to pursue a degree in anesthesiology.

“With that degree, I hope to help others who may have gone through similar experiences as I have,” she said. “I can assure my patients that they will overcome the battle they’re currently facing.”

Tomoko Bell, Ph.D., is one of Elginique’s favorite faculty members on campus, and is a big inspiration to her, she said.

“Dr. Bell and Dr. (Jenna) Persons are my biology teachers and have been extra helpful,” Elginique said. “If I don’t understand a subject, they each help me understand what’s being taught. They’re both welcoming and kind, and great professors.”

Elginique also credits Director of Multicultural Engagement and Campus Life Enid Ortiz for “helping me dramatically by giving me advice on how to manage school and everything that’s going on in my personal life.”

“Mrs. Ortiz has been a great support system,” she added.

It took one campus tour with Senior Associate Director of Admissions Georgia Drewes for Elginique to decide Newman was the perfect fit.

“Georgia really helped me through the process, and it was clear she looked out for my best interests,” Elginique said.

Elginique Dames smiles outside of the Bishop Gerber Science Center at Newman University.
Elginique Dames smiles outside of the Bishop Gerber Science Center at Newman University.

Being an international student at Newman University has been a blessing, Elginique said.

“I honestly didn’t think it would be this easy to make friends,” she said. “We’re really inclusive of one another here at Newman, and we’re welcoming even if we aren’t from the same background. Plus, because some of us come from different parts of the world, we’re able to share those experiences with other people.”

Apart from studying, Elginique is involved in the Newman Medical Professionals Club as well as the Kiwanis Club, Circle K International.

A strong faith to guide her

Through all of life’s challenges, Elginique has found hope. One of her favorite experiences took place when she was baptized at the Restoration Church Wichita during high school. She gives credit to her host family, Scott and Candace Parks, for being so welcoming and inviting in their church.

When things get hard, remember the reason why you’re working toward your goals and always remember that God is with you.

Elginique Dames, first-year biology student

“They don’t judge you based on your past,” Elginique explained. “They accept you for who you are and help you to change and become the person you want to be.”

Elginique’s favorite scripture comes from the chapter of John, which refers to God being the light in the darkness.

“It just reminds me that during my darkest times and challenges, dealing with adversity, I can say, ‘Okay, God is the light of my life.’ He will pull me out of any circumstances, any dark place that I am in, and He will bring me contentment and joy. The pain I’m feeling may be temporary, but I know the joy is going to come.”

If Elginique were to offer any advice to those who are struggling, she would remind them that the best action to take is to persevere through it.

“When things get hard, remember the reason why you’re working toward your goals and always remember that God is with you,” she said.

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Newman University is a Catholic university named for St. John Henry Newman and founded by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ for the purpose of empowering graduates to transform society.