Tribal Students Relate the Importance of Education

Aug 11th, 2013 | By | Category: 25-1: Art & Symbolism

Each year, we look forward to attending graduation ceremonies at tribal colleges and universities (TCUs). It is a rewarding experience to see the students striding across the stage to receive their hard-earned degrees, diplomas, and certificates, as their proud families support them with cheers and applause.

This summer, the Tribal College Journal staff had the opportunity to attend Navajo Technical College’s (NTC) graduation in Crownpoint, New Mexico. The featured speaker was Second Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden. A full-time instructor at a community college in Virginia, Dr. Biden understands the important role tribal colleges play in helping students succeed. “College is a place that changes lives, for the better. And tribal colleges are especially unique places, particularly for students who might otherwise not have the opportunity to attain a higher education. Tribal colleges, like community colleges, meet students exactly where they are,” she said.

Student leaders also stood up and spoke about what it meant to attend a tribal college, relating stories about the various roads they took to get there. “I’ve realized my time here at Navajo Technical College has changed me in immeasurable ways,” said Sherwin Becenti, NTC’s student of the year. Another featured student leader, Dody Begaye, was the first to earn a baccalaureate degree from the college in NTC’s new Information Technology program.

Like NTC, tribal colleges across the nation celebrated their graduates, proudly posting photos on their websites and on Facebook. Indeed, they have good reasons to celebrate, as TCUs are making great strides in educating Indian Country. Each year, TCUs serve more than 66,000 students and community members, generating thousands of graduates who earn degrees, certificates, diplomas, and apprenticeships in a wide-range of disciplines.

As tribal college students prepare for another school year full of new challenges and great accomplishments, they face more than the usual set of tests and trials. The decreasing availability of Federal Pell Grants, increasing interest rates on student loans, and possible reductions to student programs and support services due to federal budget cuts and sequestration will disproportionately impact them. At times like this, we must redouble our efforts to encourage our students and support tribal colleges. A donation to the American Indian College Fund (www.collegefund.org) is a welcome and worthwhile investment in American Indian students who are the future of tribal nations.

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