VIDEO: Tribal college grads look to future
WALKER—Diversity and prosperity were celebrated Friday as graduates from Leech Lake Tribal College and Red Lake Nation College walked across the stage to receive their diplomas at Northern Lights Casino in Walker.
The colleges converged to commemorate 46 students earning their two-year college degrees as well as 27 Adult Basic Education GED and diploma graduates. Keynote speaker David Cournoyer, of Plain Depth Consulting in St. Paul, delivered a message of embracing differences to a packed ballroom Friday morning.
"If we're really going to be sovereign nations, we have got to push the envelope and focus on change and innovation and doing things differently," Cournoyer said. "Who better to lead the way than these graduates?"
Cournoyer, of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, said diversity is necessary.
"The more diversity we have, the better we'll be," Cournoyer said.
LLTC Valedictorian Mark Doty from Turtle River is an example of that diversity.
"As a non-Native student this college has welcomed me with open arms and made me feel part of something bigger than myself," Doty said as he addressed students, family, faculty and friends. "I am proud to be part of this college and the Ojibwe nation building era."
Jeremy Neadeau, of Red Lake, attended community colleges in Minneapolis and Bemidji before enrolling at LLTC. Neadeau said the culture at LLTC was more family oriented. Neadeau, a 31-year-old father of two young children, was able to achieve Salutatorian status and play collegiate basketball while earning his associate's degree at LLTC.
"I feel like every Native American should want to get a higher education so they can build our people back up to prosper," Neadeau said.
This summer Neadeau will be interning with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources before pursuing a bachelor's degree in environmental science in the fall. He is considering Fort Lewis College in Colorado and University of Minnesota Morris.
"As you graduate you are more influential to your family and your community than you were before," said LLTC President Don Day.
Lilie Robinson knows about family influence. Robinson, 20, of Bemidji is the fifth in her family to graduate from college. She studied liberal arts at LLTC and is pursuing an advanced degree in clinical psychology. Robinson has applied to UCLA and Harvard to continue her education, but she plans to apply her knowledge to her home community.
"My big dream is to come back to the Leech Lake Reservation and help my people," Robinson said.
Day said less than one percent of college graduates are Native American.
"A lot of people my age are not pursuing college," Robinson said. "We need to inspire each other."
The combined total of 46 graduates is high compared to an average 30 to 40 students, said Bill Blackwell, Director of Institutional Advancement for Leech Lake Tribal College.
"With the addition of Red Lake we've had higher numbers because there are two campuses," Blackwell said. "It's been a really good stretch for us."
Blackwell explained the dual graduation ceremony is customary while LLTC partners with Red Lake Nation College during the accreditation process. RLNC should be accredited in two years, Blackwell said. Due to the partnership, students are able to attend both campuses and earn credits that will transfer to other colleges.
The college in Leech Lake gained a new library in the past year and construction is underway for a new campus to open in Red Lake this fall.
"It's definitely good for infrastructure and development, there's no doubt about that," Blackwell said. "But it's a recruiting and retention tool because we're able to have students come in and be in a true academic setting."