Graduations Reflect Pride and Tradition

May 15th, 1995 | By | Category: 7-1: Tribal Colleges Looking to the Future, Tribal College News
By Jennifer Gray Reddish

Most college graduations this spring featured students in black robes, parents in their Sunday best, and the somber cadence of Pomp and Circumstance. In contrast, students and faculty at most tribal colleges worked to create unique ceremonies that expressed their institutions’ amalgamation of mainstream education and traditional culture.

Some students marched through their processional and recessional to the sound of traditional flute music while others participated in pipe ceremonies and ended with a pow wow or give-a-way gathering. Each was unique.

The College of the Menominee Nation, finishing its second year of operation, had its first official graduation. Melody Kobs and Ronna Buzmann received their associate of arts degrees in social work, along with other graduates who earned a one-year mastery certificate in applied science.

The event was a student run effort supported by Dr. Candy Waukau. She notes, “Though there is some formality to the ceremony, it [was] very family oriented because the class is so small. We wanted it to be very warm and incorporate as much of the family as we can.”

An in-house graduation, the three guest speakers included Waukau, and the other two reservation resi­dents with doctoral degrees: Dr. Jerilyn Grienon and President Vermae Fowler.

Another young institu­tion, Leech Lake Tribal College, had their ceremony planned by nearly everyone at the college. John Morrow, who headed planning for the graduation ceremony, says he once was solely responsible for the event. But the increase in graduates (and the fact that “you can’t please everyone,” he notes) led to a more inclusive approach.

The school expected about 500 people to cheer on this year’s graduating class of 24 students—five of whom received associate of arts degrees. Others were award­ed associate of applied sci­ence degrees and diplomas.

The ceremony also cele­brated the school’s record enrollment—up from 146 in fall 1993 to 265 the next year. Like the Menominee college, Leech Lake tries to integrate contemporary grad­uation ceremonies with tra­ditional culture. It included a pipe ceremony before the presentation of degrees and awards—as well as guitar and Indian flute music.

After the graduation cere­mony, everyone was invited to attend a “non-contest pow wow” already in progress. Jackets with the school logo were given to students, and a give-away-ceremony for everyone was held.

Nebraska Indian Community College, with three campuses, graduated students on the Santee Reservation on May 20. Like Leech Lake and Menominee, the celebration was a collaborative effort of the entire school—from the decorations printed up by the campus press to the preparations of the ceremony itself.

According to Darcy Peletich and Betty Redleaf, the ceremony reflected a large part of their culture. Students receive two types of diplomas—one made from paper and the other skin. After the ceremony, a meal was served to everyone in the community, followed by a pow wow that went late into the evening.

The college granted an honorary degree to a member from each of the three reservations: David Smith, a Winnebago for Indian Studies; Elmer Blackbird, an Omaha for his contributions as a spiritual leader and adjunct faculty to the college; and Trudell, a Santee, for her contributions as an attorney in California.

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