KYLE, S.D. - Tiny red caps and gowns mingled among a mass of people who were congratulating, primping and consoling the graduates before the May 11 graduation ceremony.
The 180 graduates, ages 4 and 5, listened to teachers and assistants that lined them up to receive their diplomas, after completing their time in Oglala Lakota College Head Start program.
OLC on the Pine Ridge Reservation inherited the Head Start program after the Department of Health and Human Services threatened to shut down the program because of financial difficulties and the hiring of noncertified teachers. Under the administration of Cecelia Fire Thunder, a deal was worked out to move the program to the tribal college. This year was the second graduation administered by the college.
The graduates were treated to a full-scale graduation ceremony, complete with Honor Song from the Mahpiya Zi singers. Hundreds of mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandmas and grandpas watched and cheered as their special graduate received a diploma and a duck umbrella.
''How many of you want to be doctors?'' asked OLC President Tom Shortbull. Hands went up. ''How many want to be nurses?'' More hands went up. ''How many want to be astronauts?'' some of the same hands went up. ''How many want to be college presidents?'' Hands went up.
''Well, I'm getting older and some of you will be able to replace me as president some day,'' Shortbull said.
''Remember to have your dreams,'' he said.
Shortbull told the youngsters that it was not always the smartest people who succeeded; it was the person who worked the hardest.
He told the parents that they need to set high expectations for the children, and not always try to be their friends.
''Tell them they have to work hard,'' he said.
The ceremony took place in the same location, the OLC pow wow grounds inside the arbor. The ceremony for the college graduates will take place there in June. Children from all nine districts converged for the graduation and small receptions and dinners were to take place at the district level.
''This is our second year, and it is just heartwarming. We will work to make the program better,'' Shortbull said.
As the name of each graduate was called out by Head Start Director Michelle Yankton, each graduate stepped forward to receive a diploma and an umbrella from Shortbull. As he congratulated each child, he shook their hand and handed them a diploma and umbrella. Some were not willing to wait for the handshake or congratulatory message; they grabbed the umbrella and diploma with both hands and headed back to their seats.
It became more difficult to see the children's faces as the umbrellas opened to be used almost as tents. But what faces could be seen were oftentimes toothless smiles.
Crow Creek Head Start
The Oglala Sioux Tribe's Head Start program nearly met with closure, but quick action turned the program over to the OLC.
The Crow Creek Sioux Tribe was not so lucky. The Head Start program on that reservation was closed more than one year ago due to administrative and funding discrepancies and a substandard facility.
Because of a federal grant given to the Rapid City-based Rural America Initiative, $112,179 will go to the Crow Creek Head Start Program and funding will continue indefinitely, according to Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D.
Without Head Start, there is no preschool education program on either the Pine Ridge or Crow Creek Reservations.
''The restoration of this program ensures future generations of the Crow Creek Tribe will have this opportunity to excel,'' Johnson said.