Tracy Pargeets has been through a lot.
Having already lost her father when she was 16 and a brother, too, she had to deal with yet another tragedy in 2008. When she was six months pregnant, her fiancé, Jeremy Ortley, died after suffering a ruptured appendix.
All that hasn’t deterred the Haskell Indian Nations University student from graduating, which she’s set to do this Friday with the rest of her classmates, earning her bachelor’s degree in business.
“It was hard,” she said. “My sister helped out a lot, moving in with me, helping with baby-sitting.”
She and her brother Adelbert Pargeets will become the first in the family to earn bachelor’s degrees when they graduate together.
Pargeets said she’s stronger now for having gone through what she has.
“You have to try to move forward and have a supportive group,” she said. “It’s really key to keep going.”
At Haskell off and on since 2001, Pargeets has worked hard for her degree.
She is a member of the Ute tribe in Utah, where her family lives on the Uintah and Ouray reservation.
Few members of her tribe pursue a college education off the reservation, she said, though it’s something both her parents pushed for.
“I just wanted something more than being stuck in a small place without learning about anything outside it,” Pargeets said.
She’s already working a full-time job at the American Indian Records Repository in Lenexa. She helps keep track of a variety of American Indian records in different parts of the country.
The job appeals to her in part because of her love for American Indian culture. She said she also enjoys beading — something she learned from her mother, and her mother learned from hers.
“I just think it’s important for us to know our history,” she said, noting it’s a sentiment not all members of her community share. “Our tradition and culture, we need to keep it going into the future.”
Mioshia Wagoner, a friend and former co-worker at the Haskell Culture Center Museum, isn’t surprised that Pargeets has been successful so far. When her fiancé died, many in her place would have left school, Wagoner said.
“Just the fact that she was able to come back and finish her education, I think that shows that she’s a strong person and a very strong woman,” Wagoner said.
Pargeets has to provide for herself and her son, Jeremy Jr. He’s now a year and a half old.
She takes care of him with siblings who live with her in Lawrence. The siblings, too, attend Haskell, and the three of them have arranged their course schedule so one of them can always be at home to look after Jeremy.
A smile came across Pargeets’ lips when she spoke of her son. He’s a very active, happy boy, she said, who loves cookies and jumping on things.
And perhaps even more than everything else she’s learned at Haskell, she’s continued to press on because she knows that she needs to be able to be independent and in control of her own future. Next on her agenda is a master’s degree in business.
“So many things can happen,” she said. “So many things can change.”