Education is the subject of every boring lecture. “Get your education and you can do anything.” “Education is key to success.” “Stay in school.”
More than any other group of people, it’s been pounded into the heads of Native Americans for as long as I can remember. People came to our boarding school telling us to go to college to get a degree and to come back and make something of our lives — like it’s that easy. People throw a lot of money our way so that we don’t have to worry about it when we major in engineering or nursing.
Yet, only 3 percent of Native American students who enter college actually finish, according to the National Institute for Native Leadership in Higher Education. Another study says it’s 30 percent and another says is 40 percent. Either way, those statistics are not good. They’re the lowest of all ethnic groups.
My first memory of school comes from a small boarding school in Crownpoint, one of the bigger communities of the Navajo Nation reservation. It’s a hub of education. It has one boarding school that includes grades K-8, one public elementary school, one public middle school, one public high school, and two four-year tribal colleges. I’d say there are more students than there are jobs in this town.
I can’t tell you exactly how lucky I am to have finished college — even if a bachelor’s degree is not as prestigious and high-ranking as it once was.
When I graduated in 2010, I didn’t look at my real diploma for two whole years because I really don’t have an interest in formalities like that. During the whole graduation process I didn’t want the attention, the ceremony or the “congratulations.” For high school and college graduations my parents hosted large receptions for me and invited all the relatives. I was sort of a drag because I didn’t want any of it.
I thought, “so many people graduate from college ever year. Why am I so special?”
Back then I didn’t know about the statistics and about how I’m part of that 3 or 30 percent. It seemed like luck was the driving force sometimes, but I had so much support and so much to take advantage of.
I give my parents credit for most of my educational success here. They allowed me to do whatever I wanted — except that time they tried to force me to try out for basketball. Every time I was the student of the month and we had a special dinner, they were there. For every school assembly and piano recital, they were in front with their cameras. For eight years of volleyball, they never missed a single match. For every scholarship application I had to fill out, copy and fax, they helped me. For every time I called asking for extra money for gas, food and play, they gave what they could. For every scholarship I was awarded, my mom cried tears of joy.
They encouraged me, praised me and enabled me to become what I am now: an independent woman and one of the only Native American journalists in southern New Mexico. You have to give my parents props for raising two daughters and getting both of us successfully through college. My sister is currently on her way to getting her master’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis.
What got me through school
There are five things that got me through 17 years of school:
- My parents worked hard and worked their way up from the bottom. They showed me work ethic and righteousness. They never cheated and lied, but they always complained about it and taught us that liars and cheats were no good.
- I was not too attached to home. Crownpoint is a little town that had nothing for me, so I knew I couldn’t stay there and do what I wanted. I wanted to get out there and see the other side of the reservation. And that’s exactly what I did. Of course I got scared and confused, but I quickly realized that other people and new places are not scary at all. Studying journalism gave me an advantage. As a journalist I’ve talked to hundreds of people and listened to their stories. Even in college, I was doing this, and it broke the ice for me. I learned so much about Las Cruces and about the people here very quickly. Some other Native students stay with other Natives and never venture out into the city. They only hang out with each other and leave almost no room to experience other people.
- There are so many scholarships out there for Native students I don’t see why the expense is a reason to drop out. There are so many for nursing and STEM majors, but fewer for creative fields like mine. Still, I managed to get everything paid for by Native scholarships alone. I understand it’s expensive to pay for gas, food and fun stuff, but a college student is usually kind of broke and hungry right?
- I became sociable and found my voice. I have always looked people in their eyes when they talked to me, which is also something a lot of Navajos don’t do – and I don’t know the reason. I believe it’s some kind of respect thing, though. Many Natives can come off as being very shy and reserved. From what I’ve seen of my peers, they don’t ask questions, they don’t raise their hands in class and they don’t speak well in public. Though I am sociably shy most times, I can sure speak up for public speaking class (in which I earned an A), when it’s important and when I needed help. It seems like many Native students are not comfortable asking for help or know that’s its available everywhere.
- Babies and kids make me very uncomfortable and I can’t imagine having to raise one right now, or when I was younger. I made sure that that was not going to happen under any circumstances because I had too much going on and too much ahead of me. Health care is free at our Indian Health Service hospitals, so that makes condoms and birth control absolutely free. They preach to us to be safe and wait to get pregnant, but over my five years of college, I’ve seen so many girls drop out of college to raise children. I’d say most women from my high school graduating class already have one or two kids now. That means most of them didn’t graduate college either. It’s a sad fact and I don’t know why Native women are not proactive when it comes to this. It’s there, it’s encouraged, but they don’t do it.
So it was a long road. In short, I had my priorities straight. I couldn’t stand the thought of letting my parents down because they’ve done so much for my sister and me. I couldn’t stand the thought of letting my mentors, and the people who believed in me and gave me scholarship money, down. There were so many people looking at me and watching to see how far I would go and hoping that I’d finish someday. I’m proud to say that I am one of the 3 to 30 percent who can tell them all, “I graduated.”