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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Six Red Cloud Indian School Students Receive Gates Millennium Scholarships
by Indian Country Today Staff

PINE RIDGE, S.D. – Six students from Red Cloud High School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, S.D., have received the coveted Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Scholarship, putting them one step closer to realizing their dreams of going to college.

Jeremy Blacksmith, Sarah Herman, Blaine Leftwich, Montana Sierra, Jacey Twiss and Autumn White Eyes, all seniors, have earned full-ride scholarships to the college of their choice due to their outstanding academic accomplishments in the classroom and contributions to their school and reservation outside the classroom.

“We are extremely proud of these students and commend them on all of the hard work that they have put into their academics and extracurricular activities over the past four years,” said Nick Dressel, high school principal. “Winning the Gates Millennium Scholarship is a great accomplishment and a good start to helping them fulfill their goals.”

The Gates Millennium Scholarship is funded through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and pays for any unmet financial need that the students may have during their post-secondary studies, at any institution in the country.

Of the 18 students that earned Gates Millennium Scholarships in South Dakota, six came from Red Cloud – the most in the state. Red Cloud also is distinguished in earning the second largest number of scholarships in the nation, just behind Santa Fe Indian School in New Mexico.

“I feel very honored and relieved to have earned this scholarship,” Herman said. “It’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Now, I have the opportunity to experience life off of the reservation while continuing to accomplish my goals.”

“All my life I have dreamed of going to college and getting a degree that will enable me to come back to the reservation and do all that I can to benefit my people, especially the children,” said Blacksmith, a standout student-athlete on the boys’ basketball team. “This scholarship will enable me to do just that, and I plan on making the most of it so that I can make not just myself, but my family and most importantly, my people, proud.”

“I am incredibly grateful for this scholarship,” said Sierra, a student-athlete who led the boys’ golf team to a second place finish at state. “It gives me a real sense that I have accomplished something important during my tenure at Red Cloud.”

The Gates Millennium Scholarship is awarded to students who exemplify excellence in the classroom and leadership within their own communities. Students at Red Cloud who are interested in this scholarship participate in an essay writing class, are mentored by college students and professors through a program with Creighton University and are encouraged to attend summer programs designed to teach them more about the scholarship and college application process.

“I can remember hearing about the Gates Scholarship when I was a freshman,” Leftwich said. “I recall hearing about all the seniors who got the scholarship, and knowing that I wanted it for myself. But I never thought it would actually happen. I am so grateful to all the teachers, mentors, family members and people across the reservation who believed in me. They were my driving force in this whole process.”

“It really was a long, stressful application process with all the essays. But it really paid off in the end, and I feel so relieved and, frankly, humbled that I have been awarded this prestigious scholarship,” Twiss said.

In total, 44 students from Red Cloud High School have been awarded this scholarship since the program’s inception in 1999.

“It’s like a dream,” said White Eyes, who will attend Dartmouth College next year. “I still cannot believe that all the hard work that myself and my classmates have committed to has paid off. Words cannot express how grateful I am to everyone who has made this a reality.”

This year’s recipients will attend a variety of schools, from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to Arizona State University and the University of New Mexico.

We continue to be in awe of our students,” said Fr. Peter Klink SJ, president of Red Cloud. “These scholarships are a wonderful testimony to the hard work of these students and a great tribute to all who have assisted them in achieving this accomplishment. These students are living examples of what can be achieved when you work hard, and dare to dream. I look forward to the positive contribution that these and all our graduates can and will make in the future.”

Where will they go, what will they study:

  • Jeremy Blacksmith, undecided, pre-med and sports medicine
  • Sarah Herman, Arizona State University, nursing
  • Blaine Leftwich, Marquette University, chemical engineering
  • Montana Sierra, Arizona State University, landscape architecture
  • Jacey Twiss, University of New Mexico, computer science
  • Autumn White Eyes, Dartmouth College, pre-med, chemistry, Native American Studies or English
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