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'Education is the key': Red Lake Nation College grad Alyssa Webster relies on knowledge to push her forward

Red Lake Nation College graduate Alyssa Webster is putting in work for the next seven generations.

Alyssa Webster WEB.jpg
Red Lake Nation College student Alyssa Webster will graduate at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 20, at the Red Lake Powwow Grounds.
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RED LAKE — Red Lake Nation College graduate Alyssa Webster is putting in work for the next seven generations.

Born in Minneapolis, Webster has followed a checkered path that eventually led her to graduation, which takes place on May 20.

Not only will she be graduating, but she’s been named the class valedictorian.

“I’m pretty anxious, but I’m also very excited about graduating,” Webster said. “I wasn’t expecting (to be valedictorian), so that definitely caught me by surprise.”

The road to RLNC

Webster’s time in Minneapolis was cut short upon moving to Arizona to live with her grandmother, a decision that was made in part to the hardships experienced by Webster’s mother.

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“She was a single mother who was struggling financially. It got to the point where she was raising all (three of my siblings and me) out of a vehicle and we were showering behind churches,” Webster detailed. “And we were homeless because my mother was trying to flee from domestic violence.”

Her mother relocated to New York, causing Webster to follow suit when she was 14 as a means of reuniting with her mother. Five years later, Webster graduated from high school and credited her mother for the motivation to do so.

“It had been a long time (since I saw my mom) and I was kind of forgetting her laugh,” Webster added. “When I moved back to live with her, I just have memories of her working really hard, raising four children by herself, taking my brother with her on a bike as she traveled four hours to go to college (...) Seeing all that gave me no excuses not to succeed.”

Webster’s mom and grandmother were both teachers as well as Webster’s inspiration throughout her educational pursuits.

“My grandma always said to put in work for the next seven generations so that they are secured,” Webster said. “Education is a big part of achieving that. My grandma and mom always said that education is the key to getting you through any door.”

Having been in and out of foster care years prior, Webster kept her curiosity alive with regards to learning the Ojibwe language and choosing a college where she could express her Red Lake and Menominee heritage.

It just so happened that RLNC fit the bill.

“I wasn’t really able to express those parts of myself, so that motivated me to learn more about where I came from and how things ended up how they are now,” she said. “I flew here to visit RLNC and they had a lot of really helpful people who helped me to get enrolled and figure everything out step by step.”

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Figuring it out

Graduating with her general associate’s degree, Webster’s time in college has been met with much support that has made her transition from New York to Red Lake more accessible.

She initially struggled to find her own place and transportation, but the college stepped in to help her with both.

“I was able to obtain my first apartment through the college and they also helped me get my first car,” Webster said. “I had no credit history at the time and they basically vouched for me to the landlord stating if I wasn’t able to do it on my own, they would help me with financial aid. They’ve always gone above and beyond when advocating for me.”

Having been accepted to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities to pursue graphic design, Webster has taken full advantage of RLNC art classes and activities to hone her skills.

Her favorite class was Anishinaabe Arts, and she always remained active in special classes hosted by the college including basket-weaving.

Her spare time is fairly artistic, as well, with cultural significance added in.

“I like to work on many types of art projects: designing clothes, embroidery, painting, anything I can get my hands on, really,” Webster added. “I do incorporate a lot of the culture into my artwork because I think it’s important to express that part of me.”

She has also been involved with an immersion program where she taught Ojibwe to young children.

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Throughout her pursuits, Webster has always kept her strongest support system in mind even if they live a thousand miles away.

“All of my siblings live in New York, so it’s pretty hard being away from family,” Webster said. “But, there’s a constant need for Native American graduates and we can definitely use a lot more representation in the arts.”

Webster said she lives by her grandmother’s saying, “knowledge is the only thing that can never be taken from you.”

Red Lake Nation College's graduation is set for 5 p.m. on Friday, May 20 at the Red Lake Seven Clans Casino.

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