A passion for learning: Red Lake Nation College grad Vena Cobenais accomplishes longtime goal

Seventeen years after graduating from Red Lake High School, Vena Cobenais has surpassed another feat.

Vena Cobenais.jpeg
Red Lake Nation College student Vena Cobenais will graduate at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, May 19, at the college.

RED LAKE — Seventeen years after graduating from Red Lake High School, Vena Cobenais has surpassed another feat.

As the first out of her siblings to graduate from high school — as the 2006 class salutatorian — Cobenais will now claim her general associate’s degree from Red Lake Nation College on May 19.

It hasn’t been easy to balance school, work and family, but it’s all worth it for Cobenais when she can be a positive role model for her children and fulfill her passion for learning.

“I want to be able to inspire them to do great in life and school, and hopefully go on to college to earn a degree,” Cobenais detailed, “but also to just be the best version of themselves and push themselves beyond the limits they think they have.

“It doesn’t mean they have to be perfect because no one is perfect,” she continued. “I just want them to put in their best effort to whatever they choose to do.”


A passion for learning

Cobenais chose to reenter the classroom after speaking with a friend who graduated from Red Lake Nation College a few years prior.

“She’s always known I wanted to go back to school, but I always put it off,” Cobenais said. “I just realized it was finally time to get that goal accomplished.”

Cobenais took well to the online classes she started taking in 2021 along with the mere five-minute drive from her workplace when attending in-person classes.

She has worked at the Red Lake Nation Child Development Center for about 13 years, formerly as a classroom teacher and currently as an office assistant.

That job change gave her more flexibility when starting classes as she wouldn’t have been able to step outside the classroom to complete schoolwork or would’ve had to leave her coworkers short-staffed to do so.

Working with children has informed Cobenais’ next step of working toward a degree in early childhood education.

“I like to learn, and I have a passion for wanting to help children learn,” she said. “I enjoy watching them learn new skills and reach new milestones, so I made the decision to bring my dream and goal to the spotlight.”

Her passion for learning has served her in several ways. One way was being named as the college’s student of the year and representing RLNC at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium Student Conference in March in Albuquerque, N.M.


Cobenais was selected by staff and faculty to represent RLNC at the conference, which included workshops, competitions and an awards ceremony for students representing 35 tribal colleges and universities in the United States.

“I didn’t realize that there were that many tribal colleges and universities, so to see all the students there representing their school in a positive and encouraging way was pretty cool,” she noted.

Such an experience proved fruitful for her, adding “I was nervous because I had to stand up in front of everybody, but that was probably the best moment, getting that award and getting my hard work recognized.”

Honing support

As she looks back on the past two years of added responsibilities related to schoolwork, Cobenais has stepped up to the challenge of managing family and work with due diligence.

“(I’ve been) pushing and holding myself accountable for what I needed to get done and at the same time, making sure I provided the time and attention my family needed,” she said.

Cobenais thanks her mentors and support system, which ranges from family members to professors to friends for helping her stay on task.

“My beloved late grandparents, they always worked hard to provide and be there for all of us by showing love, compassion and guidance,” Cobenais said. “You also have these great teachers who are always there to help their students and I’ve really admired their passion and attitudes. Then I have friends who I can turn to also. I don’t have a favorite or favorites. I just like certain aspects or traits of people that help me be who I am.”

Such sentiment has motivated Cobenais to continue succeeding in each and every thing that falls on her plate.


“I finally went to college like I wanted to since I was in elementary school,” Cobenais said. “I’m excited to continue my education journey to the next level.”

Red Lake Nation College’s graduation is set for 5:30 p.m. on Friday, May 19, at the college.

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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