On South Dakotas Pine Ridge Reservation, home to the Oglala
Lakota people, many students only dream of going to college. More
than 60 percent of children on the reservation live below the poverty
line. Statewide, the high school graduation rate for Native American
students is less than 50 percent. And life expectancy in Oglala
Lakota County, where Pine Ridge Reservation sits, is the lowest
in the United States.
But this year, one Lakota student at Red Cloud Indian School
defied the negative statistics that continue to plague young people
on Pine Ridge. Not only is nineteen-year-old Jacob Rosales going
to college this fall, but he was accepted into seven of the nations
eight Ivy League universities.
I first learned I was accepted at Yale in December and
all I felt was pure happiness and excitement. And then I heard from
Harvard, and I was just awestruck, said Jacob, who was also
admitted to Cornell, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth,
and Brown. I dont know exactly how I managed itbut
I am truly thankful for where I am right now.
Jacob always knew he wanted to go to collegeand his parents
encouraged him to dream big. But his mother, who was born in Germany
and met Jacobs father while working at Oglala Lakota College,
also stressed that financial aid would be critical. When she learned
how many Red Cloud students had succeeded in earning major college
scholarshipslike the Gates Millenniumshe wanted Jacob
to have that same chance. He enrolled at Red Cloud in ninth grade
and started dreaming of a career in marine biology.
Jacobs journey through high school wasnt always
easy. His family lives over an hour away from Red Cloud, making
daily transportation to school all but impossible. Jacobs
mom decided to rent a trailer along one of the schools bus
routes so that he could get back and forth to campus. But it meant
that he largely lived on his ownseparated from his family
during the school week and going home only on the weekends.
I spent a lot of time alone at the trailer during sophomore
and junior year. Being away from home has been the sacrifice Ive
had to make over the last four years, he said. But being
away from home for that long has made me more independent. Im
not nervous about the future...and Im more confident in my
ability to go to college. Ive grown, and I can see that now.
That growth came through grasping every opportunity that came
his way. Jacob did more than just pursue good grades. He was a leader
on the track team and says that running helped him stay focused
and grounded when school and life got challenging. He also became
part of Red Clouds Spiritual Leadership Teama group
of high school students selected to serve as mentors responsible
for guiding their classmates through spiritual ceremonies, community
service activities, and class retreats throughout the year.
And last summer, at the urging of one of his counselors at Red
Cloud, he took part in a summer internship program at the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) just outside Washington, DC. He helped
to staff an NIH lab, working alongside some of the worlds
top scientists seeking breakthroughs in the fight against Parkinsons
disease. Although Jacob was always interested in a career in science,
the experience opened his eyes to the possibility of becoming a
At NIH, I was working with a lot of really important figures
in the fieldpeople who have done so much to improve our understanding
of genetics. It was really inspiring and, suddenly, it really felt
like home, said Jacob. People on the reservation often
get less care or are misdiagnosed. I want to become a general practitioner
so that I can help make sure people here get the quality care they
This summer Jacob will return to NIH and serve as part of a
clinical team to gain experience working directly with patients.
And in the fall, he will begin his pre-medical studies at Yale University.
Jacob credits his close-knit community including family
members, teachers, counselors, and friendswith helping him
get this far. But staying connected to Lakota culture and heritage,
he says, has been a foundation of his identity. At Red Cloud, he
was able to begin learning the Lakota language for the first time:
his grandmother spoke it fluently, but she passed away before he
could learn from her. And now, as he leaves the reservation for
college, he has every intention of carrying his culture and language
Im going to a place where very few people know what
it means to be Oglala Lakota. So I hope to impact the Yale community
by sharing my culture with others, he said. Getting
an education, keeping my culture alive, and continuing to learn
and speak the Lakota language thats all part of my
Jacob also plans to live out the Lakota virtue of Wachá?tognaka,
or living generously and with compassion. One of his college essays
which helped him earn admission to so many elite universities
focused on an experience he had picking up a hitchhiker and
what it taught him about the power of kindness. He says he wants
to continuing practicing kindness when I get to college
and in the years to follow. And above all, he wants to come back
and serve his people on Pine Ridge, where hope is so urgently needed.
I always wanted to be someone who helped people
that was the theme of whatever career dream Ive followed,
he said. In the future, I hope to come back and impact my
community. I grew up here, and while I was fortunate that my life
wasnt as difficult as many other peoples lives, Ive
definitely had my fair share of hardships. I want to be able to
show people that if I can make it, they can too.