MISSION, S.D. - Renewal, accomplishment and overcoming obstacles were the themes of speakers addressing the 64 graduates at the 28th annual Sinte Gleska University commencement.
Two Rosebud Sioux tribal elders recalled their struggles and achievements while encouraging graduates to use their education to enrich the lives of others on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation during the Aug. 25.ceremonies.
Webster Two Hawk, honored by tribal and university officials for his role in advancing formation of the university as tribal chairman, recalled how strict discipline at the boarding school - which once stood on the site - allowed him to succeed.
While others recall hard times at mission schools, which often doled out harsh discipline, Two Hawk fondly remembered his days at the school. He said that strict discipline prepared him to be successful during military service.
"This particular boarding school gave me a good start in life. It taught me how to respect people, how to work and how to be kind."
Two Hawk, who said he was thrilled to see his old campus come back to life with new facilities, reminded students their role should be to give back to the community.
"We have an example of these graduates who are going on to develop fully what the Great Spirit, God, has given to them. Some will continue, I'm sure, with graduate school. Several will go to work and fulfill what they want to do with their life."
Among tribal elders challenging the graduates to make their mark was Nellie Star Boy-Menard of Rosebud, a former board school student who went on to teach and be recognized as an arts advocate.
Tribal leaders, including Rosebud Sioux Tribal Chairman William Kindle, offered the encouragement to graduates to help shape the tribe's future.
"Tribal chairmen see a lot of things and we meet a lot of people. We see how other tribes are doing. We see how they are progressing. We see if they are progressing at all," Kindle said. He spoke of a recent trip to the Choctaw Nation of Mississippi where he saw industry emerging, a growing educational system and flourishing casinos.
"The things I saw there are very much like I dreamed and hope could happen here on the Rosebud. To make those things happen for us on the Rosebud, we're going to need a lot of help. I know in order for us to realize that dream and that hope of a better nation, we're going to be looking to our graduates to help us do that."
The graduates are part of the dream to make the reservation a better place to live and a better place to raise children, he said.
"I see a lot of hope in your faces and there is also hope we will be seeing you, working with you and hoping each one of you realize the dream we have for Rosebud. Each one of you, in some small way, will be helping the tribe to progress ... . We're very proud of each and every one of you. Each one of you will make your mark here at Rosebud."
Kindle said he was overwhelmed by the progress of the new facilities where the commencement exercises were held.
"Something like this takes a lot of work and a lot of commitment ... . It takes the coming together of a lot of people to do it. This is a beautiful facility and it is really an honor for me to just be with you today."
The commencement was dedicated to the memory of Eric Cox, three men killed in a plane crash a couple of days earlier, Rosebud Boarding School alumni and Korean War veterans.
Members of the Cox family, who signaled the end of their grieving period for Eric, led a smoke and water ceremony and a prayer for Robert Bielstein, Tom Vermillion and Shane Sheesley whose flight went down shortly after take off Aug. 23. Vermillion and Sheesley had just finished work on the $6.5 million multipurpose center and were on their way home when the twin-engine plane went down.
Among the graduates was LaDora Beauvais, a 55-year-old Sicangu Lakota grandmother, who received her bachelor's degree in elementary education. She graduated along side her daughter, Carol Lone Dog, who received her bachelor's degree in human services.
"I never thought I would see the day I'd get a college degree. Without Sinte Gleska, I never would have seen this day," said the mother of three who also raised one of her grandchildren.
Beauvais is among the nearly 170 students who have received education degrees during the past 28 years.
The college enrolls more than 1,000 students each year and 75 percent of its enrollment are American Indian students. It offers bachelor's and associate's degrees in a broad range of programs, five certificate programs and a master's degree in education. This fall, the university will expand its program offering a master's degree in business, human services and cultural resource management.