the graduating seniors at the Native American Preparatory School,
commencement was a bittersweet affair.
Because of financial difficulties, the
Rowe school is closing, and this was its last graduation.
Twelve seniors, representing seven different
tribes, approached the campus stage, set up under a shade canopy,
on the arms of friends and family to accept their diplomas from
Arthur Scott, head of the school. Some wore traditional dress, others
draped their caps and gowns with pueblo and tribal beads, turquoise
belts and silver jewelry.
They think of themselves as survivors.
"We're proud of our children and
we're grieving," said parent Sheila Burns. "(Closing)
creates a void in the dreams and hopes of the students who don't
get to graduate from this school, and makes it impossible for us
to give back to it."
This fall NAPS graduates will head for
some of the nation's elite private colleges. And Native American
Prep School - the country's only privately funded, intertribal college-preparatory
school - helped make it possible, they say.
"I'm not sure those opportunities
are available at the public school or on the pueblos, for future
students," said Sonja Berthrong, who said she came to the ceremony
to support the students.
"The Native American Preparatory
School didn't just help my college dreams come true," said
Burns' daughter, Faith Rosetta of Santo Domingo Pueblo. "It,
most importantly, made me dream."
Rosetta is beginning pre-med studies at
Yale University this fall.
Her older sister, Caitilin Elmer, said
Rosetta once hated school, but attending NAPS seemed to change her
attitude. "She was home-schooled through junior high, but she's
going to Yale now," Elmer said.
Dale Michael Trujillo of Taos Pueblo will
attend Occidental College in California in September to study archaeology
or political science.
Katerí Aguilar of the Santo Domingo
Pueblo is going to Columbia University.
And Concetta Ray Tsosie, from the Diné
Nation, plans to attend Georgetown University. Standing at the podium,
she said she had mixed feelings knowing she's part of the last class
to graduate from NAPS. "This is a place you find yourself,"
she said. "I always thought I would stay on the 'rez',"
Tsosie said. "Now I'm going to Georgetown, thanks to four years
MaDonna Lee Analla from Laguna Pueblo
plans to study criminal psychology and forensics at Occidental College.
Her grandfather, Robert Analla, missed
his own mother's funeral to see his only granddaughter graduate.
"We love MaDonna so much, we had to be here - we came a long
way, but we wouldn't miss it," he said.
Analla's brother was a freshman at NAPS
this year. "We're looking around for another school for him.
He hates to have to leave here," said their father, Emmett.
Nani Brandow, a residential adviser and
administrator with NAPS since its establishment in 1995, tried to
look on the bright side. "It isn't all that bad," Brandow
said. "You can make something good from this and move on. We've
already placed all of our students in other prep schools and they
will follow through - it's always about their energy and the people
who supported them through the years."
Laura Jagles, a former NAPS teacher and
residential adviser, hopes the school - founded six years ago by
publisher and philanthropist Richard P. Ettinger to boost college
opportunities for American Indian youth - will be reborn some day.
"Obviously, Ettinger had a great vision. I hope some day that
dream will come back to life," she said.