Channeling the Haskell Indian Nations University mission statement, Brandon Yellowbird-Stevens reminded graduates that their Haskell degrees are portals for helping Indian Country.
“No other institution in the world does that — brings 567 nations that represent the U.S. together on one campus,” said Yellowbird-Stevens, the National Haskell Board of Regents president, an Oneida Nation government representative and a Haskell graduate.
“You learn a lot of different things that a lot of kids on the reservation don’t get to experience.”
For the second year in a row, Haskell set a record for the number of graduates, with 229, said university President Venida Chenault. Graduates included both bachelor’s and associate degree recipients.
The annual commencement ceremony took place Friday at Haskell’s Coffin Sports Complex and featured native drum music, prayers in native language and graduates wearing caps, gowns and regalia from many different tribes.
Family members from weeks-old babies to elderly grandparents filled the stands. Cars with license plates from states and Indian nations across the United States filled campus parking areas.
Yellowbird-Stevens said five generations of his family have attended Haskell.
As Haskell Board of Regents president, he said his job is to “break down barriers” to ensure that American Indians have opportunities that have been historically closed to them. Indian Country counts on Haskell graduates to provide for its needs and to inspire younger generations to pursue their educations.
“I take what I learned from Haskell back to my community, and I make it better,” Yellowbird-Stevens said.
“It’s your opportunity and your duty now.”
The director of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education, Tony Dearman, delivered remarks at Friday’s ceremony. Haskell is the only four-year university in the country operated by the federal agency.
Other honorees who spoke were Haskell alumni of the year Helen Sumner; Haskell Student of the Year and graduate Samantha “Sami” Milk; and the American Indian College Fund Student of the Year, graduate Marcell Grant.
Grant, Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and Yankton Sioux Tribe, said she — like her fellow graduates — juggled schoolwork, athletics, internships, clubs and family while completing her degree.
“I had those moments where I wanted to pack up my belongings and head home,” she said.
“As the saying goes, difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.”