Meet the Namans: One family, six Ivy Leaguers

ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 9, 2013 

Dr. Vincent Naman is a product of Princeton University and his wife, Dian, is a Columbia University grad. Together they've managed to raise four other Ivy Leaguers in their home.

Their daughters, Natalia and Julia, graduated from Princeton and Yale, and their son, Luke, is a junior at Dartmouth. Their youngest child, Brianna, will head to Brown University this fall. When she graduates, all six family members will have Ivy League degrees.

Brianna, a 2013 graduate of Columbus High School, said it was tough being the last to carry on the family tradition, but she made it. "It wasn't so much that I felt pressure to go to an Ivy League college, but it was like it would be everyone but me, literally everyone," she said. "So, slowly throughout junior year I was like 'I'm kind of wanting to be at an Ivy League more than any other school.'"

Vincent, 52, is a plastic surgeon with a private practice at Chattahoochee Plastic Surgery on Brookstone Centre Parkway. Dian, 51, is a registered nurse and her husband's office administrator. Both grew up in Queens, N.Y., the offspring of Caribbean immigrants who fueled their ambitions.

The Namans said they didn't necessarily set out to get all their children into Ivy League schools. They just wanted them to have the best education possible.

"There is a pride in knowing that your child was able to achieve the highest goal in the country, which is to go to one of these top schools," said Dian Naman. "You feel you did the best you could for them and gave them an opportunity that only a few get."

Vincent, who sits on a recruiting committee for Princeton, said he would like to see more students from Columbus go to Ivy League universities. He said most of the universities have need-based programs for families who can't afford tuition. All it takes is hard work and a laser focus on academic achievement, he said, but many families are unaware.

"I could remember about 10 or 12 years ago, begging a family to send their daughter to Princeton instead of UGA or (some place else)," he said. "UGA is a fine school, but they didn't even seem to comprehend the idea of a world that would open up to somebody at a school (like an Ivy League) where they're studying with the smartest minds in the world and internationally 40 or 50 countries are sending students there.

"Even if you come back to Columbus when you're all done, still you have such a broad perspective," he said. "It's not for everybody but it's something worth considering."

But getting into an Ivy League university isn't easy and minorities tend to be underrepresented, according to a recent article in The National Journal. Blacks only represent 7.4 percent of the students at Princeton, 7.7 percent at Columbia, 6 percent at Yale, 7.6 percent at Dartmouth and 5.8 percent at Brown, according to the report.

Of the eight Ivy League universities in the United States, the family will have degrees from five. The only ones left are Harvard, Cornell and Penn, and family members got accepted to some of those, too.

In 2009, an American Journal of Education study found that students with ancestry from Africa and the Caribbean made up a disproportionate percentage of the black population at elite schools.

Though they accounted for only 13 percent of U.S. blacks between the ages of 18 and 19, they accounted for 41 percent of black freshmen enrolled at Ivy League universities.

The study, conducted by professors at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania, found that many immigrant families viewed higher education as their ticket to the American Dream. The Naman family reflects that mentality.

Vincent and Dian said they both grew up in families where their parents stressed the importance of education, and each generation was expected to do better than the last.

Vincent's maternal grandparents were from St. Vincent and his paternal grandparents from Puerto Rico. His father became an accountant with the U.S. Post Office in Jamaica, Queens, and his mother a homemaker.

Vincent said he grew up in a middle-class neighborhood where some of his peers were getting into Ivy League universities, and his family followed suit. His older sister was accepted at Barnard College when Columbia University was still closed to women.

"I had a sense that it was a big deal," Vincent said. "I knew what Ivy League was and when I went to high school I started hearing more and more of that."

Dian's family migrated from Jamaica to Queens in 1975, when she was about 14 years old. Her mother was a nurse's aid and her father a mechanic in Brooklyn.

"For me, growing up in the West Indies, education was a privilege and not a right," she said. "So, when I came to this country and everyone got an opportunity to go to college -- oh, my gosh. It was like, certainly, I could work hard and do well for myself. And my children could, too."

Vincent went to Stuyvesant High School, one of the best in New York City, and then headed to Princeton. After graduating in 1982, he went to Albert Einstein Medical School. In 1984, he met Dian, while she was a nursing student at Columbia. The couple married June 16, 1985, and started a family. They moved to Columbus in 1995 when Vincent finished his residency at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

The Namans said they focused on their children's academic development from the very beginning. They taught their first daughter, Natalia, to read before she started school and continued the practice with every sibling that followed.

"It was important that by the time they got to first-grade they felt they were one of the smartest kids in the class," Dian said. "There's self-esteem when you get to a class and you already know the stuff. The other kids are looking at you like you're smart. And then you continue that."

All four of the Naman children went to Brookstone and then Columbus High. Their parents banned television on school nights, and made getting A's a top priority. They stayed up late helping their children with homework and showed up at school when their grades slipped. They also encouraged their children to participate in sports and in extra-curricular activities that would look good on college resumes.

Brianna said her parents had strict rules, but she just thought it was normal.

"I thought it was strange that my friends would go home and watch TV for like two hours, and then start their homework, because that was never part of my life," she said. "So, I never really missed it."

Dian said all the children had different academic abilities, and she and Vincent had to push some more than others. But it all worked out in the end.

Natalia, 26, graduated from Columbus High in 2004 and went to Princeton, her father's alma mater. She graduated in 2008 with a degree in English, then earned a master's in fine arts from New York University. She's now a playwright and adjunct professor at Columbus State University.

Julia, 23, graduated from Columbus High in 2008 and started the trend of each sibling going to his or her own Ivy League school.

She was accepted at Princeton, but chose Yale instead. In 2012, she graduated with a environmental science degree and is currently working on a master's in public health at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

The Naman's only son, Luke, 20, graduated from Columbus High in 2011 and is a pre-med major at Dartmouth.

Brianna, 18, was also accepted at Dartmouth and Cornell. But she preferred Brown, where she will be studying international relations.

She's glad to have her own Ivy League to root for, she said. And she's looking forward to passing the tradition down to the next generation.

"It's like 'OK, it's your turn,'" she said, of her future children, nieces and nephews. "But hopefully they won't feel too much pressure."

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