Tribal members and the value of a higher education

Chelsea Orr.

By Shaelyn Hood, Tulalip News

Many tribal members hear elders and community leaders speak of the importance of earning your degree and receiving a form of higher education. It is important to learn the significance behind this advice, the values of earning your degree, and the steps to getting there.

One key advantage to receiving your higher education, is an increased access to job opportunities. College graduates will typically see 57% more job opportunities that non-graduates in their area. It also opens the gate for more specialized careers. Higher education offers a substantial platform for someone to build their expertise. Those seeking additional education while continue to work can gain necessary training, and the opportunity for promotions within their field.

Another more sought-after reason as to why people earn their degrees, is the potential to earn a higher income. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, on average, someone who earns their bachelor’s degree will earn $17,500 more a year than someone with an associate degree, and $25,000 more than a high school graduate. 

Additionally, being able to give back to your community. As we know, there are positions that do not require a degree, however, there are very specialized positions that our tribe occasionally needs and are at risk of needing in the future. As we often hear from our elders, and community leaders, they are looking for tribal members to eventually replace them in their positions.

Chelsea Orr felt that same passion to give back. She is currently a senior at Washington State University and earned both her high school degree and associates degree in June this year. Her passion for Human Development began at the tribe, and she decided that she would eventually use her skills to help her people. 

“I was doing Summer Youth at Tulalip Early Learning Academy, and a lot of kids there needed a little bit of extra help,” said Chelsea. “Eventually, I wanted to be the kind of person to help them.” 

Once graduating with a 3.95 GPA from Lakewood High School, Orr found out that she had also won Tulalip Senior Girl of the Year. She spoke about her heritage and how it has helped her academically, “I feel like it’s made me more strong-willed and has helped me persevere. Knowing that our people have been through so much, I want to be able to come back and work for the tribe to help our people. We need to stay together”. 

Unfortunately, a trend that some universities are seeing, is an overall attendance decrease from Native youth. According to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, currently only 16% of Native Americans attain a bachelor’s degree or higher, and only 9% attain an associate’s degree. Other studies show that undergraduate enrollment among Native Americans, ages 18-24, have gradually decreased since 2016-2017. But as this is continuing, there is hope in knowing that non-traditional students’ attendance is growing.

Lena Hammons.

Non-traditional students are those who did not seek higher education right out of high school. Lena Hammons, tribal elder, was such a student for many years. At the time, she had a family and children to focus on and decided that she would pursue a higher education later in life. Since then, she has earned her associates, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree. 

Hammons said, “I tell everybody, I didn’t get my degree to become better than anybody else. I got it to become a better me, so that I could be a better mom, grandma, community member, tribal member, employee, to gain better insight to behaviors, and how the various federal laws impacted our behaviors”. She talked about how it’s not everyone’s path to start right out of high school, “it’s about knowing when it’s the right time and place. Don’t stress because you’re not ready. Detours aren’t necessarily a bad thing”. 

Many non-traditional students worry about the balance of schoolwork and life’s responsibilities, “I tell the students all the time, I never missed family time to do homework. I take my homework with me. If I could go to a family event and read a chapter, then that is what I did. Balancing family life and schoolwork is very important,” Hammons said.

Currently, the Tulalip Tribes Higher Education Department has accounted for 362, 18+ year students enrolled throughout the 2020-2021 school year. Their goals to help these students are to increase enrollment, increase graduation rate, reach out to younger students, and offer support and guidance, and expand with internships with college students and graduates.

The Higher Education Department offers a variety of support to help tribal members seeking their degree. They currently offer a substantial amount of funding towards tuition, books/supplies, a stipend, and room/board and transportation allowance for those that qualify. 

Outside of financial support, they recognize graduates or completion of certificates, train staff to assist students with their educational needs, assist with the Native American Career & Technical Education Program (NACTEP) and provide information and guidance to college planning. 

For anyone that is interested in pursuing their academics further, please contact the Higher Education Department at: 360-716-4888 or highered@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov.

Back To School Bash

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

End of summer signals the official kick-off for the back to school season. In Tulalip, that means Positive Youth Development’s always highly anticipated, annual ‘Back To School Bash’.

Local school-aged children descended to the Reservation’s centrally located Youth Center by the hundreds in order to collect essential school supplies, hygiene kits, and gather information from a variety of community resource booths. The students and their families were eagerly greeted by community friends and a number of educators from Marysville School District who could hardly contain their excitement at finally being reunited with their kids, some of whom they hadn’t seen in person in over a year.

“In my role as both a mom and educator, I’ve attended Tulalip’s back to school event for the last fifteen years,” said Tulalip tribal member Chelsea Craig. “It’s always grounded me as a mother to have access to all the resources the Tribe has to offer, but also the connections with Marysville School District and the outer community. Anytime we can bring together our tribal community with those around us in a positive way, it’s an opportunity to provide healing and create new relationships that can foster true understanding.

“A great memory from today has to be meeting a family who has been completely online since their kids started kindergarten last year,” continued the recently promoted Quil Ceda Elementary assistant principal. “This family had zero in-person contact with our school staff until today. To be able to introduce ourselves and help ease their minds about the transition back to face-to-face learning was priceless.”

The annual Bash looked a little different minus the usual backpack giveaway. However, Youth Development staff were on hand to walk families through a number of financial aid opportunities to receive critical funds for school supplies and other education related costs. Those forms are conveniently located on the website TulalipYouthServices.com

Youth lined up to receive a fresh haircut, to fill their bellies with a BBQ lunch, and to meet all kinds of community resource representatives who can assist them on their educational journey. For the students and their families new to the Tulalip area or the school district, this event was a perfect welcoming. 

“After signing up my kids for school, they emailed us a flyer for this event. I think this is so beneficial because my kids really needed the things that are being provided,” shared Puyallup tribal member Angel Berry. She recently moved to the area and looks forward to her three kids attending schools with such a strong connection to Native peoples. “We’ve only been in the area for a few weeks, so this is a good opportunity for us to integrate into the community.”

Among the Bash’s many activities offered were a game of kickball, a BMX demonstration at the skate part, a photo booth, and an immersive petting zoo featuring a baby kangaroo and farm animals. Ever-popular among the tiny tots was a balloon artist who couldn’t buy a break from nonstop requests for light sabers, flower bouquets, and household animals. 

New to this year was a full on scholastic book fair. Regardless of reading level or age, students from pre-school up to high school senior could be seen perusing the paperback offerings in search of the perfect end of summer reading material. 

“Our goal was to bring everyone together in the best way that we could, in the safest way possible, so our membership could access the resources that they may need for the upcoming school year,” reflected Youth Development manager Josh Fryberg. “We partnered with so many departments from Tribal Government and Marysville School District to make this event happen. Weather it was something simple like getting your kid a haircut or updating their tribal ID, or needing help applying for Covid relief funds and speaking to a local school representative, so many left here satisfied and optimistic for the first day of school. This is what the power of community is all about.”

Paddling to Kindergarten

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News  

Seventy-sevin students completed their academic journey at the Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy on the evening of August 20th. The future leaders celebrated their graduation with a parade. The kids excitedly waved at their loved ones and teachers, who held up signs and cheered, as they drove through the early learning academy parking lot for one last ride. Come Fall, they will begin a new educational experience at elementary school. 

TELA went all out for their graduates and created cedar headbands, Paddling to Kindergarten t-shirts and paper cut-out paddles for the kids to wear and showcase during the ceremony. 

“I have to give so many kudos to all of our teachers and all of our leadership team who worked on this event because they outdid themselves in making all of the children feel special in their graduation,” said TELA Director, Sheryl Fryberg. “They’re paddling to kindergarten and they are so excited and happy. I think the families absolutely love the graduation ceremony this way and I saw them share so many happy smiles and laughter with their kids.”

She continued, “This is one of their big milestones. That leap from birth-to-three to pre-school was big but this is huge, where they’re leaving us and moving on to that kindergarten classroom where it’s a totally different world. We’re really excited that we could be a part of it.” 

Congratulations to all the graduates and good luck in kindergarten!

Covid Challenges for Colleges – Fall 2021

Submitted by Jeanne Steffener, Tulalip Tribes Higher Ed

The Delta variant appears to be the dominant coronavirus strain in the United States today. This virus is highly transmissible. “Data suggests that vaccinated people maybe able to spread infections caused by the highly transmissible variant.”1 CDC Director, Rochelle Walensky told reporters in July that “The good news is that all three coronavirus vaccines authorized in the United States offer strong protection against severe disease and death from covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Preliminary data from several states over the past several months suggests that 99.5 percent of covid-19 related deaths occurred among unvaccinated people.”

So, what does this mean for colleges and universities hoping to return to the classroom in the fall? In less than a month, students are planning to go back to school as colleges/universities attempt their first in-person classroom sessions in over a year and a half, since March 2020. However, a nationwide surge in the Delta variant looms heavy and is complicating future plans. Since the variant is so contagious, higher ed institutions are watching it closely.
  In Washington State, Governor Jay Inslee recently ordered all employees at state public colleges to get vaccinated against Covid-19 with the Delta variant surging throughout the United States, targeting the unvaccinated and children. “Early Research suggests the Delta variant is about 50 percent more contagious than the Alpha variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom and became the predominant variant in the United States during the spring”2 of 2020.

Colleges are eager to resume classes in Autumn, 2021 after having to revamp what school looks like and they have been bringing online learning to students as an alternate delivery system while the virus and variants continue to assault and kill people around the world. Due to the deadly severity of the Delta variant of coronavirus, more colleges are giving out incentives and penalties in their efforts to get students and staff vaccinated before the beginning of the fall term. According to Yale Medicine: “A major worry right now is Delta, a highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 virus strain, which was first identified in India in December. It swept rapidly through that country and Great Britain before reaching the U.S., where it is now the predominant variant.”3 Washington State is among a growing list of colleges and universities mandating proof of vaccination for the fall 2021 term to keep themselves and others safe. 

“WASHINGTON STATE: Central Washington University, Clover Park Technical College, Eastern Washington University, Evergreen State College, Gonzaga University, Heritage University, Highline College, Pacific Lutheran University, St. Martin’s University, Seattle Colleges (Central, North, South), Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University, Spokane Community College, Spokane Falls Community College, Tacoma Community College, University of Puget Sound, University of Washington (Tacoma, Bothell, Seattle), Washington State University, Wenatchee Valley College, Western Washington University, Whitman College, Whitworth University”,including Washington State Community Colleges. The complete list of schools throughout the United State can be found at: https://universitybusiness.com/state-by-state-look-at-colleges-requiring-vaccines/. Students should check with their schools about the specific requirements of that institution.

The Higher ED Team is ready to assist you on your educational journey. You can either call us at 360-716-4888 or email us at highered@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov for more information for Fall 2021 term.

  •  “What you need to know about the highly contagious delta variant” by Lindsey Bever, Joel Achenbach, Kim Bellware and Lateshia Beachum. August 18, 2021. Read more at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/07/07/delta-variant-covid/
  •   “What you need to know about the highly contagious delta variant” by Lindsey Bever, Joel Achenbach, Kim Bellware and Lateshia Beachum. August 18, 2021. Read more at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/07/07/delta-variant-covid/
  • “5 Things to Know About the Delta Variant” by Kathy Katella. August 18, 2021. Read more at: https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/5-things-to-know-delta-variant-covid
  •  “State-by-state look at colleges requiring Covid-19 vaccines”. August 10, 2021 Read more at: https://universitybusiness.com/state-by-state-look-at-colleges-requiring-vaccines/

The future of Tulalip literacy is in good hands

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Over the last five weeks, a group of Tulalip youth with a shared interest for writing met at Hibulb Cultural Center to embrace their creative sides, while improving their intellectual skills for the upcoming school year. Led by local author and Cascade High School teacher Steve Bertrand, the Youth Writer’s Workshop came together Monday mornings for two-hour sessions. 

“Our workshop was open to students between 5th and 12th grade. Every week focused on a different form of creative writing, from short stories to letters to songs and poetry,” explained Steve. He brought a wealth of experience to the workshop with over 40-years of teaching experience and more than 35 books published.

“From brainstorming and idea development to rough drafts and the editing process to final publication and sharing with the group, I’ve been really impressed with the kids and how much material they developed in such a short amount of time,” he continued. “Throughout my career I’ve taught both middle schoolers and high schoolers, and it’s always remarkable to witness the creativity and openness of younger people. The students I was fortunate to teach here were eager to learn and embraced all the forms of writing.” 

Every day kids experience events that are new to them. In doing so, they learn new words that expand their vocabulary and have new ideas that help them develop a creative and curious mind to understand the world around them. By encouraging children to write from a young age, they can develop critical emotional skills that are beneficial at any age. Channeling emotions, being able to manage a difficult situation, and understanding how others feel are just some of the skills invoked through creative writing.

A group of middle schoolers giving up precious hours of their summer break to develop their writing skills seems farfetched, that is until you talk to the students in question. Then it becomes clear you’re dealing with the kind of academic achievers who don’t require encouragement to explore their imaginations, nor are they bashful about conveying their personal experiences and emotions through written word.

“I enjoyed learning new ways to write,” said soon-to-be 6th grader Allyea Hernandez. “Learning how to properly write a poem was my favorite part of the class. Poetry isn’t something I’m really interested in, but it was still fun learning how there are so many ways to create a poem. Did you know they don’t have to rhyme? They can be about mood and emotion. I wrote a poem about happiness that my mom really liked.”

“It’s been fun. There were way more types of writing than I thought, but Steve is a really good teacher and made learning about the different writing forms enjoyable,” added future 7th grader Kileea Pablo. She mentioned writing with a focus on imagery, rhyme, metaphor and personification would help her in English and Literature classes she’ll be taking next month. “I know I’ll be doing a lot of writing in 7th grade and wanted to get a head start practicing and learning new writing skills by coming here. It was worth it. I’m more confident expressing emotion in my writing now.”

In a world where text speak and emojis are so common, creative writing helps to develop writing skills that are being forgotten about. If a youth cannot communicate effectively through written word, the problem may only become worse as they grow older. Encouraging creative writing can help a young person, better yet anyone of any age, to communicate effectively.

Middle schooler Allyea put it best when she proclaimed, “Writing is something you need to know how to do well, otherwise you can’t really get far.” 

Concluding their fifth and final writer’s workshop, the wordsmiths in training proudly displayed their certificates of completion in front of the latest Hibulb exhibit ‘The Power of Words: A History of Tulalip Literacy.” If these Tulalip writers have anything to say about it, the future of Tulalip literacy is in pretty good hands, too.

Friendship

Friendship is the best.

Everyone knows that friends last.

That’s why I stick with mine.

– Amaya Hernandez 

Happiness

Happiness is as yellow as a lemon on a hot summer day. 

Sounds like a bumblebee buzzing or a bird chirping.

Tastes like sweet vanilla ice cream. 

Smells like your mothers homemade cookies out of the oven. 

Looks like a cozy bed after a long day. 

It makes you feel joyous. 

– Allyea Hernandez

Paddle to Pre-School Parade

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Nearly thirty vehicles formed a line that began on 76th St. NW, wrapped around 36th Ave NW, and led to the Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy parking lot on a hazy August afternoon. Inside each car were eager and excited students who successfully completed the academy’s birth-to-three program and have now earned the official title as the new ‘big kids’ of the early learning center.

In total, thirty-nine future leaders received their very-first certification-of-completion and will be moving-up to the pre-school side of the academy beginning next school year. 

As each car entered the parking lot, the students received a large cut-out star with their names written across it. When the cars drove through the TELA property, the students were cheered on by their teachers, friends and family members, who recognized the little ones for their first-of-many accomplishments of their educational journey. 

 “Today we had our Paddle to Pre-school Parade,” said Marcilena Vela, TELA Birth-to-Three Administrator. “Our three-year-old’s, from our birth-to-three early head start program, are moving over to either Montessori or ECEAP next year. This is our first drive-thru celebration parade, due to COVID. We usually host it up at the gym. This is important to celebrate because this is a milestone for the kids, and it gives them the opportunity to show how much they’ve accomplished in the short little three years of their lives. We had a great turnout! We had 27 out 39 children.”

The kiddos also received gift baskets and popcorn buckets from their teachers, a bittersweet moment for both parties as they shared a final student-teacher exchange together before the students begin the next exciting phase of their education across campus.  

Native and Educated

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Every time a Native American graduates from a university, community college or vocational school, they become the living embodiment of what it means to reclaim a narrative. For so long Native students were shut out of academic environments where they could tell their own stories and promote their thriving traditions. 

When it comes to being Native American and educated, the dominate narrative is they can’t succeed in a westernized education system. United States Census data supports this notion by showing that while more than 65% of American high school students go to college, just 19% of Native students continue their education after high school. In an age where education is an important cornerstone for self-sufficiency and quality of life, only 13% of tribal citizens age 25 and older hold a college degree. 

That narrative is being reclaimed and rewritten by present day Indigenous scholars who are actively working to decolonize education pathways, not just for themselves but for generations to come. On the evening of July 28, thirty-one such proud Tulalip scholars were celebrated for their commitment to higher education and, in the process, breaking the often-cited stereotype that Natives don’t succeed on the college level. 

“You’ve all put in so much hard work and countless hours of studying to earn your degrees. We are so proud of you for choosing to better yourself, your family and your future through education,” said Tulalip Chairwoman Teri Gobin during the higher education graduation dinner. “As a Tribe, we know we need to be better at utilizing your brilliant minds and supports our college graduates. As we continue to grow our business operations and evolve as a tribal government, we want you to feel welcome to build a career with us.”

It was a powerful moment as the words washed over the graduates as they sat with their support system of family and friends in the Tulalip Resort’s orca ballroom. Hopefully many of the graduates will consider finding their place within Tulalip’s enterprise that every year expands larger than both casinos and the Administration Building. 

For some of the graduates, they are already working diligently on carving out a role on their traditional homelands. Homegrown product Adiya Jones attended Quil Ceda elementary, Totem middle school and Heritage high school before venturing off to Skagit Valley College to earn her degree. While attending college, she began working for Tulalip’s Youth Services with a mission to show the youth that they can succeed on and off the reservation. 

“I think it’s so important to surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed and motivate you to continue growing into your best self,” said Adiya. “I was fortunate to have those kinds of people in my life and now I want to be that person for others. With the right support system, our kids can dream bigger and brighter. My advice to my fellow graduates is to consider working for your people. The best thing about the Tulalip Tribes is they’re very welcoming to their own people and the higher practices are set up for us to succeed and allow us to transition to other departments in order to find what we’re passionate about.”

The class of 2021 higher education grads included 9 Associate’s degrees, 8 Bachelor’s degrees, and 3 Master’s degrees. Six vocational diplomas, 4 high school diplomas, and a GED recipient rounded out the 31 Tulalip honorees. 

Native graduate stories are as complex and diverse as the students themselves. It’s often a longer, tougher road for Tulalip adults pursuing their education, which is all the more reason to celebrate their accomplishments. Such is the case with 42-year-old Santana Sheldon-Thompson who managed to balance her family life with multiple kids, working a fulltime job, and going back to school to fulfill an educational dream.

“To be truthful, I was a little embarrassed at my age receiving my Associate’s degree. Then I realized everyone has their own path,” shared Santana, now a Columbia College graduate, who was embraced by both her teenage daughters before taking the stage. “My path was to raise my two girls, give them my full attention and pause on my education. My advice to both my daughters is it’s never too late to go back to school and you’re never too old to learn new things. My grandpa Francy once told me, ‘You never stop learning’, and those words are always in my heart.”

The importance of recapturing the story about Natives and education requires telling it anew with bold new characters and captivating subplots. Unquestionably, it will take a new generation of Native storytellers who have the cultural knowledge and digital knowhow to film, photograph, and document history as it unfolds on reservations across Native America.

Tulalip tribal member Chalet Alexander shares in the mission to recapture the story of her people and armed with a Master’s degree from Seattle Film Institute, she intends to do just that. For her incredible work to date and courage shown to overcome severe mental illness enroute to her degree, Chalet was chosen as the student speaker and wrapped in a 8th Generations blanket.

“It’s so difficult being a Native American and telling the story. It’s difficult being a woman and telling the story. What drives me is knowing how difficult it is and yet choosing to overcome all of it by saying ‘I’m important. My people are important. And our stories are worth telling’,” said Chalet. She hopes to continue her educational journey first, with her goal toward a one-of-a-kind experiment media Ph.D. offered by Western Washington University. “Ten years from now I will be telling stories in a unique, ever-changing way that will evolve as our technology continuously improves.”

Tulalip Higher Education staff are eager to help new and returning students find their path to academic success. They can assist with FAFSA applications and finding scholarship opportunities, as well as simply reviewing the Tribe’s current policies regarding paying for college. For those tribal members who are empowered to help reclaim the narrative, please contact Higher Education at (360) 716-4888 or email highered@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov 

Benefits of your GED

Submitted by Jeanne Steffener, Higher Ed

Have you been thinking about taking that leap and getting your GED? Well the back to school season is the perfect time for you to either begin or continue your GED journey. There are benefits in earning your GED. The overwhelming majority of employers in this country require a high school diploma. A GED diploma is accepted by employers, i.e., like a high school diploma. 

The GED testing service introduced a new version of the test in 2014. Format changes occurred in the 2019 update, with no changes to the tested content. With a goal of aligning the tests with the new Common Core curricula, most states adopted the College and Career-Ready Standards Act – 2019. The Common Core standards places more weight on writing and content analysis. The test was originally developed back in 1942 for U.S. military personnel. The GED test gave an alternative option for those who had not completed their high school diploma.
  The current test shifted test taking from pencil and paper to computer format. Instead of five (5) sections, the test series was reduced to four (4) sections that evaluates students’ reasoning capabilities through Language Arts, Mathematical Reasoning, Science and Social Studies. The Language Arts and Social Studies sections have been absorbed into the essay section and includes writing assignments in each area. The test is not necessarily more difficult, but it quizzes different skills.  

So why are you taking the test and how is it going to help you in the future? A major tenent of the test requires students to show their critical thinking skills through writing that is convincing. So why is this important? Because employers want their new employees to have the ability to think critically. Critical thinking is that ability to analyze and evaluate a problem arriving at a fact-based solution. “The skills that we need, in order, to be able to think critically are varied and include observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem solving, and decision making. Specifically, we need to be able to: Think about a topic or issue in an
objective and critical way.”1

Receiving your GED, opens many doors for you. Now, you can continue with your education at an accredited trade school, college, or university. In addition, having a GED paves the way for you to establish higher educational goals for your life.

You might have noticed when searching for a job that most employers are requiring at least a high school diploma or GED to apply for a job at their company. Studies have shown that persons with a GED diploma will earn about $400,000 more during their lifetime. This is a HUGE incentive.

Knowing that you were able to reach the goal gives you a giant boost to your self-esteem. With this piece of paper, your whole world opens, and new opportunities present themselves, all because you decided to get YOUR GED. This is a new chapter in your life, and it is going to be amazing because you made the effort to study and persevere, while reaching for the brass ring. Earning a GED is a generational investment. Educated parents generally want their children to become educated.

So, if you want education to become your family’s tradition, please contact Higher ED. The Higher ED Team is ready to assist you on your educational journey. You can either call us at 360-716-4888 or email us at highered@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov for more information.

           “The Skills We Need for Critical Thinking”. Read more at: https://www.skillsyouneed.com/learn/critical-thinking.html

Graduation banquet celebrates Class of 2021, honors the dream chasers

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

“Welcome to our 2021 ceremony to celebrate our graduates,” said Chief Administrative Officer Rochelle Lubbers as she greeted the hundreds of family and friends who ventured to the Tulalip Resort on June 15. “We’re so excited to have you all here and our hearts are beyond full to be in the same room with our community.

“Reflecting on all our beautiful students today, I thought about all the different journeys they have taken to get here, and how each journey is unique and special. Not a single one had the same walk, but there are some commonalities that they experienced being seniors during a global pandemic. They experienced distance learning and all the challenges with technology that came with that. However, what I’m most impressed with is they exemplified perseverance. Our students overcome these challenges and pushed through in whatever way they had to in order graduate. For that, their entire Tribe is proud of them and that’s why we’re here to celebrate this wonderful accomplishment.”

The celebratory atmosphere was palpable in the Orca Ballroom, where a last minute venue change from the outdoor Amphitheatre meant the hopes and dreams aplenty from the Class of 2021 could be properly presented with a stylish graduation banquet. 

A whopping seventy-four high school seniors, accompanied by their loved ones, convened to commemorate the rite of passage. There were traditional songs sang and drummed, opportunities to immortalize the occasion with a visit to the extra-large photo booth, a decadent buffet-style dinner, and plenty of motivational words offered from Tulalip’s next generation of leaders.

One emphatic message that was repeated throughout the night from graduates, parents and elders alike was a reminder to the praise worthy 18-year-olds that receiving a high school diploma is only the first major milestone on their journey to manifest their dreams into reality. For some the dream may be finding a convenient job to establish independence via a one bedroom apartment, or joining the Tribe’s next TERO vocational training center class in order to enter the construction trades. There are those newly minted adults who are far too eager to start a family of their own, and there are a few who never thought they’d graduate high school and having achieved the seemingly impossible are in search of what the next step is. 

Then there are the awe-inspiring dream chasers. The type of high school grads who aren’t satisfied with just the one diploma. They want more; more education, more diplomas, and more experiences than what can be found within the boundaries of Snohomish County or the Tulalip Reservation. These individuals intend to redefine the expectations of success as it pertains to Native Americans and the education system. 

Like, homegrown Tulalip tribal members Keyondra Horne, graduate of Marysville Getchell, and Desmond Valencia, graduate of Marysville Pilchuck. They were chosen as Class of 2021 student speakers and shared heartfelt words to the Ballroom crowd.

“I didn’t write an elaborate speech, instead wanted to share from the heart,” said Keyondra from the podium. “High school was really hard in the beginning. Getting used to the pace and how teachers don’t wait on individual students to catch up. Instead, they teach the lessons and it’s expected for us to learn quickly and complete our homework the same day. But after a while, I found a rhythm that worked for me and started looking forward to learning new things.

“Now that’s my inspiration moving forward, to travel around, explore the world and continue learning new things. Tulalip will always be our home. It’s okay to leave home for a while and travel new places to experience what the world has to offer,” she added. Keyondra plans to do just that as she will be attending Hult International Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts this fall.

 Meanwhile, Desmond shared how he really struggled his first two years of high school because of a bad mindset. He admitted to being stubborn, not prioritizing his school work, and only doing the bare minimum because college wasn’t an option. Then everything changed during his junior year after taking up his Native Advocates Doug Salinas and Matt Remle on their offer to tour Washington State University.  

“I remember meeting Native college students there. They spoke so passionately about their educational pursuits and how by improving themselves they could eventually return to their reservations and improve their tribal communities,” Desmond recalled. “They sparked something in me that day, a burning desire to be better. When I returned home from that trip I made my education the highest priority. My grades improved dramatically and by the end of the year was getting all A’s. I participated in multiple clubs at school including JROTC and DECA to bolster my high school resume. I’m proud to say that my hard work has paid off and I’ll be attending W.S.U. next year.”

Becoming leaders of the present may seem like a daunting task to most 18-year-olds who have grown accustomed to a daily consistency and a comfortable support system provided by a public K-12 education. However, for Native youth, they’ve been bucking the trend and blazing new paths to academic success for years now without even realizing it. They’ve overcome long odds that said they wouldn’t earn a high school diploma and broken down barriers that prevented previous generations from attending college.

For some students, their ability to thrive in the public school system and graduate high school with top honors meant not only proving the doubters wrong, but also proving their ancestors right. The right for future generations to be educated and have the ability to pursue a Bachelors, Masters or Doctorate Degree was something previous tribal leaders fought and sacrificed for. Their vision comes true every time a Tulalip citizen boldly ventures off to a University armed with strength of culture and a tribe’s worth of support. 

Kanum Parker doesn’t reside in Tulalip, nor anywhere even close. He lives all the way in San Antonio, Texas. Half a country away and yet he’s always felt the pull of his people. In fact, he had a diamond studded necklace made featuring the Tulalip orca and his family name ‘Parker’ so that wherever he goes, his tribe does too. Kanum graduated at the top of his class at Central Catholic High School. Described by his educators as an ambitious and determined young man that demonstrates self-awareness while unselfishly giving back to his community, Kanum was awarded one of the two coveted Tulalip Senior Student of the Year scholarships.

“I’m happy beyond belief to be here today with my Tulalip family because we’re all brothers and sisters connected through culture,” declared the Texas resident and soon-to-be Baylor University undergrad after being awarded the scholarship. “My education is everything because my dream is to be a doctor. I want to become an Anesthesiologist, and that means another 8-12 years of school. It’s important for us [as Native Americans] to get educated because it’s something that can never be taken away, no matter where you go.”

The second Tulalip Senior Student of the Year scholarship winner is the instrument toting, A.P. class tutoring, Associates Degree earning, and proud Tulalip Youth Council member, Evelyn Vega-Simpson. The typical high school class load wasn’t enough for Evelyn, so she participated in Running Start and earned two full years of college credit as well as her diploma. She’s mentored classmates, fellow Tulalip youth, and other Native students in her role with Urban Native Education Alliance. Her educators say she’s provided an abundance of examples of her stellar leadership, work ethic, brilliance, compassion, patience, and exceptional commitment to improving both herself and the world around her. Evelyn has earned many accolades and scholarly achievements, but what stands out most is her humility and willingness to embrace challenges and new learning opportunities.

She’ll have plenty of challenges to embrace and opportunities to learn as she is taking her talents across the pond to pursue a career as a medical professional at the University of Nottingham, located in England. 

“I feel really proud of myself because I’ve been working so hard over the past four years. Whether it was taking advanced high school classes or college courses through Running Start, my goal has always been to do better than I did last quarter,” shared Evelyn, a rare dual graduate of both Marysville Pilchuck and Everett Community College. “Even when I was much younger my dream was to travel abroad and use my education to get me places that most people wouldn’t consider possible. Now it’s coming true. My education will be taking me to the University of Nottingham. I want to thank my support system of family, friends, and teachers who motivated and supported me. Their support made it possible for me to keep challenging myself and embrace new experiences even when I felt I lacked the courage.” 

The graduation banquet culminated in a ballroom’s worth of support hooting and hollering as each graduation strutted down a red carpet to a podium where education staff and school district representatives awaited. All seventy-four graduates were wrapped in a stunning wool blanket titled ‘Tribute’ from Native owned company, Eighth Generation.

Congratulations to all those Tulalip students who put in the hard work and dedication to earn their high school diploma. The hard work isn’t over now that you have graduated. This is just the beginning as you all prepare for new opportunities and unanticipated challenges waiting in life’s next chapter.

Heritage rewrites history books with 31 graduates

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Dreams came true, legacies were continued, and history was rewritten on June 11 as thirty-one graduating seniors received their well-deserved diplomas at Tulalip Heritage’s high school commencement. Thirteen years of dedicated K-12 schooling came to fruition in an astonishing way for Heritage’s class of 2021 – the most graduates ever in a single academic year.

This particular group of graduates overcame a global pandemic, untold personal hardships, and a litany of other difficulties that came with a senior year unlike any other. Their determination to accumulate the twenty-four academic credits necessary to complete high school was bolstered in large part to by their steadfast support system at home and in the classroom.

“These thirty-one graduates earned their way here through hard work, commitment and perseverance,” explained Principal Kelli Miller. “This was not the senior year we planned and certainly not the one we hoped for. Maybe they needed additional support, extra do-overs, a gentle push or a nagging phone call, but nevertheless they did what was necessary to reach their graduation goal and they deserve a huge congratulations for that. They didn’t get here because of Covid, they got here in spite of Covid. I couldn’t be more proud of this graduating class.

 “Thank you to the family, friends and countless community members who have walked this journey with our graduating seniors,” she continued. “I congratulate each of you because I know these students wouldn’t be here today without the time and energy you all invested in them. Most importantly, thank you for trusting us with your children. It’s truly the highest honor and greatest gift that you can give us educators is the trust to educate and guide your children.”

The thirty-one seniors rewrote the history books not just for managing to prioritize their schoolwork during a pandemic, but also for being the largest Tulalip Heritage High School graduating class ever. One after another the students, adorned with ceremonial garb like intricately woven Cedar caps and beaded medallions, proudly strutted across Francy J. Sheldon gymnasium for the last time to accept their coveted diploma. In doing so, they were fulfilling the legacy of the gym’s namesake.

Sheldon, who passed away in 2002, was a revered leader best known for his life’s mission to create opportunities for Native youth to excel in school and sports. According to his family, he wanted Tulalip children to always strive to be better and be given agency to fully embrace their culture. Even though he was not physically present to witness the historical Heritage commencement, there’s no doubt he was there in spirit.

“Francy dreamed of having a school on the reservation where our children could get a quality education and learn their culture,” said his wife of forty-three years, Anita ‘Keeta’ Sheldon. “He’d be so proud of these graduates for completing their high school education in Tulalip, and in the process bettering themselves, their families and our society. Seeing the kids wearing their Cedar caps, he’d have loved that.”

The end of high school usually means the end of free public education and free food. It’s the end of sleeping in all summer and, for some, the end of living at home. Receiving a diploma signifies the beginning of adulthood. It’s the beginning of true independence. It’s the beginning of finding a career, finding a place to live and perhaps pursuing additional education. The future is now full of possibility and wonder for Heritage’s latest graduates. 

“This is the day we’ve all been waiting for since our first day of Kindergarten,” shared class representative and student speaker Krislyn Parks. “We, the graduating class of 2021, want to give a special thanks to all the teachers that have helped us every step the way, even when we were too stubborn or hardheaded to accept it. You all never gave up on us and words can’t explain how much we appreciate you because of that. Heritage is our home away from home. The teachers, office staff, lunch ladies, coaches and custodial workers took care of us in our best and worst moments. You all guided us, educated us, and showed us how to work together despite our differences, just like a loving family. 

“Being a Heritage Hawk has changed my life forever,” she added. “Everyone at Heritage is my family and all my fellow classmates hold a special place in my heart. Now, as I stand here thinking about the past four years, I’m already viewing my high school experience differently. I may not remember all the class periods and homework assignments nor the answers to every test, but I know we will always remember the amazing memories and friendships that we’ve made. We can always draw strength from knowing Heritage will always be our home. Whatever we do and wherever we go, we will always be Heritage Hawks!”

A roaring applause erupted when Krislyn instructed her classmates to move their tassels from right to left, indicating graduation. Upon exiting their home away from home, a stunning rainbow greeted them. The future is bright in Tulalip.