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Student of the Week: Blue Tarpalechee

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Blue Tarpalechee, 19, Muskogee Creek, from Okmulgee, Okla., is a straight-A student at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe., N.M. and recipient of AICF’s Coca Cola First Generation Scholarship. He was recently invited to speak at the American Indian College Fund’s 2010 Flame of Hope Gala in Denver.

“What drew me to film in the first place was how film affected me – I’d like to be able to evoke emotions in other people, as well,” Tarpalechee said in an interview before he addressed gala attendees at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

In his work, Tarpalechee explores the subject of universality of human experience. “I want to show in films that we’re just people like everyone else,” he says. “They talk about two worlds, as in, ‘I live in two worlds’ – I’ve always felt I just live in my world, in our world.”

His favorite film is distinctly Native. The prize-winning film “Atanarjuat” (“The Fast Runner”) was written, directed and acted in Inuktitut.

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When Tarpalechee spoke to the Flame of Hope Gala audience, he talked about his successes and failures without embellishment. He mentioned being a high school valedictorian and 4.0 GPA petroleum engineering student at the University of Oklahoma, and then dropping out of college and sacrificing his full academic scholarship. But once Tarpalechee found what he loved, things fell into place for him, and he soon became president of both the IAIA student government and American Indian Higher Education Consortium student congress.

“Over the next two years, I would end up having 11 different jobs – everything from working in the vault at our tribal casino to being a professional video gamer for a short while,” Tarpalechee said. His job as letter carrier ended abruptly when his mail truck was sideswiped by another driver. He was forced to stay with a friend in Santa Fe. He then encountered the IAIA Media Department, and in 2008 Tarpalechee entered the school with a double major in creative writing and film.

“Things have been amazing ever since, ” Tarpalechee says. “I’m studying what I love… I’m telling you now, do what you love, do what moves you, do what you’ve got a passion for, and the rest falls into place.”