Stone Child College’s gymnasium was filled Thursday night with a large, boisterous crowd as hundreds of Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation residents celebrated the latest graduates of Rocky Boy High School.
Following the initial processional, where the Blue Coats Drum Group provided a refreshing replacement to Elgar’s 100-year-old “Pomp and Circumstance, ” and an opening prayer from Ruby Stump, salutatorian Kristie Lyn Russette concluded her speech with another modern reworking of graduation cliche.
“I’ll leave you with the words of Zach Galifianakis, ” Russette said. “Life’s weird. Buckle up. ”
Valedictorian Sapphire Vee Carter took a more serious approach, calling attention to and addressing all of the students who did not, and might not later, make it graduation.
“Don’t drop out, ” Carter said. “I know you want to quit, but you must buck up.
“If no one cares about you, care about yourself. ”
The ceremony’s guest speaker, Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, elaborated on this theme, telling the students about how hard it is for Indian students to graduate and strive beyond high school, commending them on their achievement.
“Sometimes as an Indian, you have to prove you are twice as smart and twice as capable to be on an even playing field, ” Juneau said. “To graduate as an Indian student in Montana is not easy.
“You are now required to succeed. You owe it to your family to do something with your diploma. ”
She also explained how each student’s heritage and background are assets.
“You must always remember where you come from, ” Juneau said. “And that remembering will guide you to where you want to go. ”
The students will also have to have confidence and faith in themselves, with a strong will, to get there, Juneau said.
“You can choose to be a victim of circumstance or the hero of your own story, ” Juneau said. “Do not let others limit your potential. ”
Speaking from her experience as the highest-ranked Indian woman in Montana’s executive branch, Juneau encouraged the students to have strength and stand up.
“Sometimes you’ll be the only Indian at the table, but that makes it more important that you’re there, ” Juneau said.
Many of this year’s students have unique opportunities to end up at some interesting tables, judging by the scholarships announced at the ceremony.
Rusette is the recipient of one of the few GEAR UP Pathways scholarships for more than $22,000.
Carter is receiving a $13,000 a year scholarship from Carroll College, which should be a nice supplement to her extremely rare and hard-earned Gates Millenium Scholarship, potentially worth more than $130,000.
Superintendent Voyd St. Pierre said he believed she is only the second enrolled tribal member from Rocky Boy to receive this award in its 13-year history.