United Tribes Technical College honored 16 mid-year graduates during a ceremony Dec. 17 at the college in Bismarck. The college’s Fall Honoring Program completed the semester and marked the beginning of a two-week holiday break for students and staff. Twelve graduates earned Associate of Applied Science Degrees in seven programs of study; four earned Certificates of Completion in medical transcription.
The program’s keynote speaker, Chase Iron Eyes, told graduates that his story is not unlike theirs. He described how he grew up at Standing Rock in a single parent household – a HUD home – where, even as a youngster, he knew how little money the family would have each month to survive on. He’s now an attorney, practicing in tribal and federal courts.
“I know that we all come from those same challenging backgrounds,” he told the audience in the United Tribes Wellness Center. “It’s nothing special anymore. It’s just part of what we have to face, part of what we overcome.”
What he overcame was the use of alcohol in his early teens. A commitment to attend class every day led him to graduate from Standing Rock High School, attend Sitting Bull College, and later earn an undergraduate degree at the University of North Dakota.
“As you graduate today, one thing I would advise you to do, that I didn’t do, is have a backup plan, a plan B,” he said. “When I graduated I sort of expected to go back where I grew up. … and the tribal government would be waiting for me with open arms and hire me for, whatever. It didn’t work out that way. I couldn’t get a job and I didn’t have a plan B.”
After a decline to, what he called, “rock bottom,” his fortunes changed. Today, he credits it to the subtle, almost imperceptible help of the Creator that he was guided into a positive relationship with the person who became his wife (Dr. Sara Jumping Eagle) and a law degree from the University of Denver.
“I was given another chance. And I wasn’t unwilling to take other jobs. They keep you afloat and buy you time until opportunity comes along, and it will come along.”
Evereta Thinn, Miss Indian Nations XVIII, added to the message. She told the graduates not to “hang back” or be timid when they recognize an opportunity. She urged them to seize challenges and always do their best as Native people. The drum group Tatanka Nagi provided opening and closing songs. A reception was held for friends and family in the college’s newly renovated cafeteria.
Spring Semester 2011 at UTTC begins with student orientation Jan. 3 – 4, followed by the start of classes on Jan. 5.