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Indian Students Rate State of the Union Address ‘Inspirational,’ ‘Optimistic’

Two American Indian students who attended President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address on January 12 share their thoughts.

American Indian college students Lydia Doza, Inupiaq/Tsimshian/Haida, and Carielle Bahe, Navajo, have at least two other important things in common. Both women are committed to improving education for American Indian and Alaska Native youth, and, probably not coincidentally, both were invited to attend President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address on January 12.

Doza was invited by the White House and sat in First Lady Michelle Obama’s box, while Bahe, the guest of Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., watched from the House of Representatives gallery. Each senator may invite only one person to the event, so “it was a huge honor,” says Bahe, who interned in Heinrich’s office in Albuquerque at the end of 2014.

Bahe is a junior at the University of New Mexico where she is studying secondary education. After graduation, she intends to go back to Crownpoint where she grew up and attended high school. “I plan to teach English to high school students,” she says. “When I was in high school, the curriculum wasn’t very challenging for me, so I want to go back to the Navajo Nation and hopefully change the curriculum and make it more advanced so that Native Americans can feel more confident and believe that they can actually go to college.”

Bahe’s goals are very much in line with the president’s. He said in his address, “We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job. The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, boosted graduates in fields like engineering. In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all and offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one. We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.”

Doza is 24 and a junior at Oregon Institute of Technology in the software engineering program. “I almost started to tear up whenever he mentioned that we [need to] teach our kids to code [computer programming] because that’s what I’m using my life to do right now,” she says. As part of her involvement with the president’s Generation Indigenous initiative to support Native American youth, she has been working with rural youth in disciplines across the STEM fields.

Facebook/Lydia Doza

Lydia Doza is seen here in the Green Room before the President’s State of the Union address on January 12.

Born and raised by her grandparents Joanne and Jim Graham in Anchorage, Alaska, Doza says, “I got interested in engineering in high school, first in robotics. That sparked my curiosity.” She did three years of mechanical engineering and then changed direction to major in software engineering.

Both Doza and Bahe agree with the president’s stance on college affordability and his initiative to make two years of community college free for everyone. In his address President Obama said, “We have to make college affordable for every American. No hardworking student should be stuck in the red. We’ve already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income. And that’s good. But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college. Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year. It’s the right thing to do.”

Bahe, 21, says one of the most important parts of the president’s address “was the education part where he was talking about college affordability. And that’s one of the reasons that Sen. Heinrich invited me to the State of the Union address. He knows that I am a college student and college affordability is important, not just to me but to college students in general because a lot of students are deep in debt by the time they graduate.”

Doza thinks the reason she was invited to attend the address was “because I really pushed for the objectives Obama is pursuing, like for the STEM fields. And I think I represent [people who are] trying to lift up minorities, under-represented youth especially, trying to make it easier, more accessible for students to go to college who originally wouldn’t have gone. I’m a first-generation college student. I’m trying to be a helping hand to others.”

In addition to her work in support of Gen-I, Doza is an event organizer for Oregon Tech’s Engineering Ambassadors, which focuses on outreach to kids as young as 3 years old up through high school to encourage them to pursue careers in engineering.

Doza and Bahe agree that the president’s address was outstanding. “I think he’s a really inspirational speaker and that was a really good last speech that he gave,” says Doza.

And Bahe says, “I enjoyed his entire speech. It was inspiring and optimistic.”

Sen. Heinrich says of Bahe’s visit to Washington, “I was honored to have Carielle Bahe as my guest for the State of the Union and share this experience with her. Carielle’s commitment to her education, giving back to her community, and working with youth is inspiring, and represents the kind of bright future we can have in New Mexico if we invest in our students. In his final address to Congress, I’m pleased the president made education and college affordability a centerpiece. There’s no question that in order to continue to grow our economy, we must have a well-educated and well-trained workforce. That begins with early childhood education. And every student who strives for a college degree deserves a fair shot at affording it without being crushed by debt.”