Community recalls Alana Donohue '18

by Caroline Berens | 6/30/16 6:47pm

Alana Donohue '18 attended The Chapin School in New York City.

For Alana Donohue ’18, life was about making those around her as happy as they could be. Friends and family said that Donohue strove to put a smile on everyone’s face, an effort that came from her kindness and lively spirit.

On June 23, Donohue died at a New York hospital as a result of anaphylaxis. She was 19.

“She literally gave to all her heart, her joy and her optimism,” Donohue’s father Ted Donohue said in her eulogy.

Ted Donohue described his daughter as someone who could effortlessly charm a room full of strangers with her playful wit and mischevous grin. He described her as a “lightbulb” in a room — the first to raise her hand, the first to laugh, the first to be silly or the first to hug. He added, though, that this was coupled with an intense intellectual curiosity. He said it is rare to find someone with such a balance of gifts.

“We almost felt guilty as parents,” Ted Donohue said. “It’s rare that you get the intellect, and the academics, but also the fun and the free spirit.”

Ted Donohue said Alana had struggled with various illnesses from a young age, including asthma, neurofibromatosis, celiac disease and various allergies, relentlessly harming her body and rarely providing any respite. Donohue had been on medical leave from the College for the past two terms, but had been planning to return for her sophomore summer.

He described his daughter’s many trips to hospitals, emergency rooms, ambulances, x-rays and MRIs, starting at a very young age. But amidst all the pain and struggles, Donohue’s father said she never “wallowed in self-pity.”

Furthermore, despite all this pain and “toxic onslaught,” Ted Donohue said that instead of letting these sicknesses consume her, his daughter saw them as a lesson to appreciate life, as she understood how fleeting a moment could be.

“Once [the illnesses] broke, that would be a reason she kind of exploded on the scene the next day,” he said. “She really knew what it was like to feel good, and to savor the preciousness of the moment.”

Donohue’s close friend Emilia Baldwin ’18 reflected on Donohue’s uncanny and extraordinary ability to bring joy to other people.

“Making others happy was a virtue that she achieved within her 19 years and one that I’m not sure I and many other people will ever be able to achieve,” Baldwin said.

Donohue was born on July 3, 1996. In her eulogy, her father recalled that she came into the world “jaundiced and screaming at the top of her little lungs,” already a force to be reckoned with. Donohue attended a preschool in Manhattan called Christ Church Day School, and then from kindergarten until senior year attended The Chapin School, an all-girls independent day school also located in Manhattan.

Sophia Diserio ’18, Donohue’s classmate both at Chapin and at Dartmouth, said that Donohue was energetic, funny and spirited, even from a very young age. She said that Donohue, the shortest student in the class during lower and middle school, used to joke when lining up in order of height that “you always have to save the best for last.”

Diserio remarked that although Donohue might have been small in size, her benevolence and compassion were tremendous.

“She may have been the last to hit her growth spurt, but her heart and soul were mature beyond her years,” Diserio said.

In particular, Diserio recalled how Donohue would forgo giving into the typical seventh-grade cliques and would sit with anyone in the class during lunch. She attributed this to Donohue’s quality of being kind to everyone.

Ted Donohue remembered how his daughter was nearly “obsessed” with making her friends happy and ensuring that they got along.

“That was kind of her mission, in the end,” he said. “To make sure her friends were always happy.”

Close family friend and Dartmouth classmate Dean Marriott ’18 expressed a similar sentiment about Donohue’s altruistic and “unselfish” nature, especially toward her friends.

“She had a wide reach and affected people from all ages and backgrounds, which is difficult to do,” Marriott wrote in an email.

Close friend Ross Bower ’18 spoke similarly to Marriott about Donohue’s dedication to her friends and her efforts to ensure they were happy.

“She was the truest friend, always putting the needs of others before her own,” Bower said “She showed her affection by always hugging and kissing and her friends, and making sure they knew how loved, appreciated and special they were to her.”

Friends and family also remarked on Donohue’s boundless energy and effortless sense of humor. Diserio recalled how, when standing in line for assemblies or class pictures, Donohue’s enthusiasm and zest could not be restrained.

“[Donohue] would bounce out of line and bound up to me with bundles of energy, usually to give me an unsolicited hug or share a silly story,” Diserio said. “Her energy could not be contained even by teachers begging her to return to her spot.”

Marriott echoed this sentiment.

“Alana was crazy, but in a great way,” Marriott said. “Everyone loved her for her quirkiness.”

Ted Donohue recounted a funny memory from his daughter’s Hawaiian-themed seventh-birthday party when Donohue spontaneously threw off her top and started dancing around with her grass skirt. A few moments later, the other girls at the party were dancing around with their skirts too. He said this moment was representative of Donohue’s constant “zaniness.”

Baldwin spoke similarly about Donohue’s energy and humor.

“When she noticed a boring moment, she would do something ridiculous, like show us unflattering photos of herself as an adolescent, which she was very proud of,” Baldwin said.

She said that this example of Donohue’s spontaneous humor served to show that “her greatest joy in life was being happy.”

Ted Donohue said that Donohue was particularly close with her parents and brother Peter, who is 17. He described his daughter and son’s relationship as typical of siblings, but said that Donohue adopted a particularly maternal role with her brother.

“Alana truly thought she was like [Peter’s] co-mother,” Ted Donohue said with a laugh. “She definitely reveled in his success and happiness, but also felt it was completely within her boundaries and protocol to discipline or lecture or tell him what to do.”

He said his son would turn to Donohue for help with math homework to confirmation that his outfit was okay before leaving home. He said Peter Donohue looked up to his sister’s accomplishments and was proud to be her brother.

As for Donohue’s relationship with her mother Niki Donohue, Ted Donohue compared it to “Fourth of July fireworks.” He said the two were very close. He noted they both possessed emotional and outgoing personalities and knew that even when they argued, they would inevitably make up.

“No matter what, they both always went to bed with a kiss and a hug,” he said.

He noted that Donohue’s close relationship with her mother was especially evident during her numerous bouts in the hospital. He humorously recalled that his daughter would text her mother when she was in the emergency room, pleading her to come, but then upon her arrival Donohue would tease her mother about her outfit.

“She’d say, ‘How could you wear that to the hospital? Did you look in a mirror?’” Ted Donohue recalled with a laugh.

Ted Donohue remarked that this was the kind of playful relationship the two had, but said it was ultimately “enveloped in deep and enduring love”.

He described his and his daughter’s own relationship as “phenomenally close,” saying that they shared more with one another that he ever thought he would share with his teenage daughter. He said this was largely because she was a big believer that sharing and telling was healthy and cathartic.

Throughout her life, Donohue was a passionate explorer, traveling to Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt, Turkey, Egypt, Dubai, Brazil and Peru, many of these on vacations with her family. When she was 16, Donohue spent her junior year of high school in Beijing, China, studying Mandarin as part of the School Year Abroad program, immersing herself in the language and culture of the area and living with a host family. She attended a school in Bejing with a combination of Chinese and American high school students.

Ted Donohue said her year in China was not the easiest for Donohue, largely due to her health issues and missing her friends from home, but she wanted a challenge.

“She wanted to have a full, adventuresome life,” he said.

Diserio added that even when Donohue faced difficult times during high school, she never failed to maintain her positive attitude.

“In high school when her health and the pressure of academics dwelled over her, her smile and laughter never ceased to fill the halls of Chapin,” Diserio said.

In addition to Mandarin, which she began learning in third grade, Donohue showed a passion and aptitude for mathematics early in her academic career. This became her intended major at the College, her father said.

He said that upon arriving in Hanover, Donohue “fell madly in love” with the College. She considered Dartmouth to be the best place in the world, as it was a school where people were smart but also knew how to have a good time, he said.

“She was lucky to have found [Dartmouth],” he said. “That was really what she wanted to be — somebody who was both fun and a really serious student.”

Bower said that although Donohue was a “New York spirit,” her love for the College was “unmatched,” and she was often in full Dartmouth garb.

“She was often seen in a Dartmouth-on-Dartmouth outfit, like sweats on sweats,” Bower said. “Only she could pull it off because she exuded confidence.”

Writing professor Jennifer Sargent taught Donohue in her Writing 5 class, “Crime, the Criminal Mind and the Courtroom.” She noted that she and Donohue connected over both being from New York City.

Echoing the words of others, she described Donohue as energetic, blowing in and out of every place like a “whirlwind.” She added that she had an effortless sense of humor and often made the class laugh without even trying.

Sargent said that as a student, Donohue had a brilliant mind. She described Donohue’s unusual intellect, explaining that her ability to observe, analyze and think critically had a depth that Sargent didn’t often see with students just starting their freshman year.

“She had a way of latching on to the critical facts and ideas that pushed our class to the next level,” she explained. “I could always rely on her to move us in the next direction.”

Donohue also had a gift for writing, Sargent said, and this reflected her sharp intellectual mind.

“She was an excellent writer, very mellifluous,” Sargent said. “[Her pieces] flowed [and] had beautiful cadence. Her writing had this beautiful sort of quality to it.”

Sargent humorously recalled how during office hours, Donohue would again appear in her “whirlwind” at the last moment, speaking a mile a minute, but once she got talking, she was able to sustain a deep conversation. Sargent said that she engaged with academic material because she genuinely wanted to learn it.

Sargent also recalled how Donohue would often come into class with four or five iced teas from King Arthur Flour. When Sargent commented to Donohue, at the beginning of the term, how nice it was that she had brought the iced teas for the class, Donohue responded that she actually drank them herself throughout the day — but would be happy to share if Sargent wanted one.

“I thought that was so funny, because she was so honest, and so genuine,” Sargent said, laughing. “She was always full of surprises.”

In her eulogy, Donohue’s father recalled a funny recent memory, where Donohue insisted to her parents that she needed a car during her sophomore summer. Her parents agreed and soon the car that she had originally desired turned into a truck, and before they knew it, Donohue and her parents were in the Bronx picking up a F-150 4x4 pickup truck. Ted Donohue joked that his daughter had never even “changed a lightbulb.” Although Donohue originally remarked that the car was “so damn ghetto,” her face lit up and soon enough she was asking her dad how many people could fit in the back of it.

“It was so illogical, incongruous, nonsensical for her to have a 4x4 pickup truck living in a Manhattan apartment,” Ted Donohue said. “As Alana said, ‘It makes no sense, but it just makes me so happy.’”

Donohue’s dean Kent Shoemaker said her “quick mind, even quicker sense of humor, resilience and vibrancy” will be deeply missed by all those who knew her on campus.

Ted Donohue recalled another recent instance where an employee at Tuk Tuk Thai Cuisine restaurant said “there’s nobody more fun” than Alana. He speculated that employees at other Hanover establishments would probably say the same thing. In a similar vein, her friends joked that she loved socializing and chatting with Uber drivers.

“She so, so loved to make those people happy,” Ted Donohue said. “She was relentless and real. And I wish I was more like that.”

Ultimately, friends and family said that beyond her intelligence and talent, it was her kindness and positivity that made Donohue who she was.

“Despite all of her accomplishments, all her vast travels around the world, all her brilliance and her beauty, it was her capacity to act as a messenger of goodness, happiness and healing others in the end that most defined her,” Donohue’s father said in his eulogy.

A memorial service is planned for some point in the coming weeks. Bower said he and Donohue’s friends are currently in the process of collecting funds to place a bench in New York’s Central Park in her honor.

Emilia Baldwin '18 is a member of The Dartmouth staff.