At this year’s May 18 commencement ceremony, Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska will graduate its largest group of Native American students in the school’s history. The graduates include 12 undergraduates, four from the graduate school, one pharmacy student, three dental students and three medical students.
The university says after graduation students are getting jobs, continuing their educational journeys or giving back to their communities.
Tracy Charging Crow, Oglala Lakota, will be graduating from the dental school and has taken a job with the Indian Health Service to be a staff dentist. She will provide oral healthcare to the urban Indian population around Rapid City, South Dakota.
“I am not required or obligated to [work with IHS]; it’s something that I want to do,” Charging Crow said in a university release. “[It has to do with] those values that they [university] instilled in us, giving back and making sure that you are doing something for the greater good, and always reflecting about your actions.”
Charging Crow is originally from Pine Ridge, South Dakota and is excited to be working with IHS because she gets to take the skills she learned in college and apply them to her community.
“[I chose to do this] in reflecting about where I come from and the help that I received, and to give back to my people,” she said. “I’m thankful that I will be providing them with oral healthcare.”
Before commencement a Cedar Ceremony will take place to celebrate the graduates’ achievements.
“This event is designed as a reinforcement of institutional respect for Native American cultural tradition where undergraduate students will be presented with a beaded medallion and feather plume to wear on their caps during graduation,” states a release from the university.
Steele Valenzuela, who will graduate with a bachelor of science degree in pure mathematics, considers himself a “non-traditional Native American student” because his mother grew up on the Omaha Reservation and his father was Mexican-American.
“I would not be graduating without the support from the Creighton Native American learning community that I entered into my freshman year,” Valenzuela said. He lost his mother to breast cancer while attending school. “The students, friends, faculty and staff, and whoever else has entered my life at Creighton is like a family to me. Without their constant love and support, I would have easily… given up on my dreams and passions. The students at Creighton are some of the most genuine and passionate people I have ever met in my life.”
Valenzuela will continue his education after graduating from Creighton. He has accepted a one-year post-baccalaureate and research position at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and someday hopes to earn a doctorate in biostatistics.
Creighton University, one of 28 Jesuit colleges in the country, says it has made an effort to increase outreach and recruit Native students by hiring an outreach and retention specialist. This year there are 40 Native American students enrolled full-time at the university.