Class of ’07 joins Haskell ‘family’

Haskell Indian Nations University graduates, from left, Roberta Harjo, Katie Renwick and Jason Koontz form a line to receive their diplomas at Haskell's spring commencement. The university graduated 174 students Friday morning.

Haskell commencement events


¢ Graduation Weekend 5K and 12-mile fun run/walk, free, 7:30 a.m., rail trail east of Coffin Sports Complex.

¢ 13th annual Haskell Commencement Indian Fast Pitch Softball Tournament, starts at 9 a.m., Clinton Lake Sports Complex.

¢ Commencement Pow Wow, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., $2 per person, Pow Wow Grounds.


¢ 13th annual Haskell Commencement Indian Fast Pitch Softball Tournament, starts at 9 a.m., Clinton Lake Sports Complex.

It was like a big family reunion Friday at Haskell Memorial Stadium, where 174 Haskell Indian Nations University students earned degrees.

The two-hour commencement ceremony marked a milestone in the students’ lives while it brought back memories for many of the approximately 2,500 in attendance.

Count the Stevens family among them.

Ernest Stevens Jr., who attended Haskell Junior College in the 1980s, was named the 2007 Outstanding Alumnus during commencement. He considers himself a Haskell ambassador and wears its colors of purple and gold with pride.

“I will work the rest of my life to make Haskell better,” he told the graduates. “The alumni have a lot of work to do and we are going to do everything we can to make Haskell a better university.”

He is among five generations who have attended Haskell. His children – TeAta Yellowbird-Stevens and Brandon Yellowbird-Stevens – were among Friday’s graduates. His 96-year-old grandmother, Maria Hinton, of Oneida, Wis., graduated in 1927. She received applause as he recognized her during his speech.

Daughter Lois Stevens, who will attend Haskell next fall and play basketball, said she was proud of her dad.

“He is very deserving of the honor,” she said. “He loves Haskell and talked me into attending this fall. He can be very persuasive.”

Theresa Milk, an English teacher at Haskell, also can be persuasive. She helped convince her older brother Delbert Thompson, Overland Park, into earning a degree.

“I am so proud of him,” she said. “I am glad he decided to go through school.”

The doting grandfather carried his first grandchild, 5-month-old Maximus Del Thompson, across the stage as he accepted a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental science. He earned the degree in three years and graduated magna cum laude while balancing work, family and school.

“If you really want it, you can find a way,” he said.

Thompson, who designs fire sprinklers, hopes his degree leads to career opportunities.

“I’ve finished another chapter in my life,” he said. “Now, I’m on to the next one. I always tell my children ‘if you ain’t learning, you ain’t living.'”

While he wore a traditional cap and gown, many graduates opted to wear American Indian costumes and accessories – some had been passed down for generations.

Bernice Mitchell, Warm Springs, Ore., and Betty Case, Chiloquin, Ore., wore traditional American Indian dresses and moccasins with detailed beadwork as they watched their granddaughter, Cyrille Mitchell, Warm Springs, Ore., earn an associate’s degree. She is the third generation of her family to graduate from Haskell.

Cyrille Mitchell was adorned in the school’s colors. She also wore an Indian breastplate and jewelry and carried a beaded bag that had been handed down to her.

“I will miss the volleyball team,” Cyrille Mitchell said as she posed for pictures with fellow teammates. Mitchell plans to return home and work for the Boys and Girls Club.

Also wearing a traditional outfit that was passed down from his uncle was Matt Wilson, Muskogee, Okla., who earned an associate’s degree and graduated cum laude.

Wilson, whose grandfather attended Haskell, said the day marked the halfway point of his education. He plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in education at Haskell starting with summer school.

“I’ve made a lot of good friends and met the woman of my dreams,” he said of Nicole Bennett who plays softball.

Friends and family were two keywords that resounded throughout the commencement ceremony as graduates thanked those who have supported them.

“I couldn’t have done it without them,” Thompson said.