Diné Graduates First 4-Year StudentsAug 15th, 1998 | By tcj | Category: 10-1: Teaching Math and Science, Tribal College News
Diné College–the first college founded by American Indians–marked an historic anniversary on May 15 by graduating the first class of four-year students educated exclusively on the Diné, or Navajo, reservation. All tribal colleges offer traditional higher education degrees as well as those in tribal culture. Graduates wore Navajo dress along with cap and gown. They marched not to Pomp and Circumstance, but to a Diné medicine man’s Traditional Journey Prayer Song.
Leading the procession were graduates Keenan Leonard and Cheryl Etsitty, both academic achievers who carried important cultural symbols–a sacred greasewood staff and a Navajo basket.
“This institution started in 1968,” college president Dr. Tommy Lewis told 2,000 on-lookers. “This was a dream of our elders. Now, we recognize our first baccalaureate students.”
Eight new Navajo teachers received diplomas at the ceremony on the main campus of the former Navajo Community College. They are the first products of the Diné Teacher Education Program, a partnership between the college and Arizona State University. The eight women plan to teach in classrooms across the reservation, which has few certified Indian teachers. “We made a commitment to teach the Navajo language to our young ones,” said graduate Mary Yazzie of Window Rock, as her husband and three children listened proudly.
Later, family members joined graduates, faculty, and the college’s board of regents to celebrate the history-making event. One by one, graduates rose to thank husbands, parents and children for their support. “I learned more about myself,” said graduate Dorothy Donald of Kayenta. Donald waited until two of her children graduated from high school before she returned to college for her four-year degree.
“She’s the first person in our family to get a bachelor’s degree,” said Donald’s daughter, Tasha. “Hopefully, I’ll be the second.”