Families and friends of Haskell Indian Nations University’s Class of 2010 braved a brisk morning wind Friday to watch the graduates take the next step in their lives.
The graduates came from all corners of the country, and many represented the first in their families to receive a college degree.
Dominic Clichee, Haskell’s student of the year, told his fellow classmates that nationwide, Native Americans and Alaska natives represented less than 1 percent of all college graduates.
“At this university, 100 percent of the graduates are American Indians or Alaska natives,” Clichee said, his words reverberating off the seats of Haskell Stadium. “No other university can boast this statistic in the world.”
Some participants chose to further celebrate their cultural heritage, ditching the academic cap and gown for more traditional cultural dress.
“I came from a school where I was the only Native American student, but when I got to Haskell, I immediately knew I belonged,” said Clichee, who also referenced many fellow students and faculty members by name during his speech.
As the names of the 179 students receiving bachelor’s and associate degrees were announced, they were paired with their tribal affiliation and personal goals.
Some were silly — one student wrote simply, “I’m making plans for an early retirement” — but many told of higher aspirations still.
The students will be going forth into even bigger worlds, now. Law school, internships with federal government agencies and work at Fortune 500 companies like Nike await them.
“Wherever you came from, you’ll always take away a piece of Haskell,” said Joshua Weston, the commencement speaker at the ceremony. A Haskell graduate himself, Weston is the president of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and is the youngest tribal president in America.
He encouraged graduates to emulate their successful Native American predecessors and conquer their fears and doubts.
“Haskell has prepared you and the choice is now yours,” he said.
Business administration graduate Brian Halona from New Mexico said he hoped to eventually own his own wood pellet manufacturing business.
“It’s just another step in achieving my goals,” he said of his bachelor’s degree.
When asked to reflect on his time at the university, he thought for a moment before answering.
“I am thankful for all the other people who have come before me and made this possible,” Halona said.