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Salish Kootenai College graduates nearly 200 students

By Lailani Upham
Char-Koosta News

Mariah Friedlander, Life Sciences – Cellular Biology, BA graduate, gazes at the crowd before the ceremony begins on Saturday, June 10. (Lailani Upham photo)Mariah Friedlander, Life Sciences – Cellular Biology, BA graduate, gazes at the crowd before the ceremony begins on Saturday, June 10. (Lailani Upham photo)

PABLO — Minutes before the Salish Kootenai College Class of 2017 was to line up for grand entry, a cool rush of air blew across the parking lot, as if it was ushering in family and friends to witness their loved ones’ public recognition of success – a triumph defined by unforeseen obstacles and challenges.

“It’s humbling to stand before you today. Each of you has a story to tell that is shaping your leadership,” said Jason Smith, Montana Governor’s Office State Director of Indian Affairs, a SKC alumni and Kootenai tribal member, during his commencement speech on Saturday at the SKC Dr. Joe McDonald Health and Activity Center.

Smith told the graduating class their stories may never be fully understood of what they went through to get to this day, “But you are here,” he said.

Each graduate made a commitment to invest in their own education and their future, he said.

(L to R): Patricia A. Kelly, MSNCH, MPH, FNP-BC, NP-C Director, Department of Nursing; Jo Ann (JoJo) Ducharme, Native American Studies Department Faculty; Salisha Old Bull, Native American Studies Department Faculty; Shandin Pete, Hydrology Instructor; stand in celebration with the 2017 SKC graduating class on Saturday. (Lailani Upham photo)(L to R): Patricia A. Kelly, MSNCH, MPH, FNP-BC, NP-C Director, Department of Nursing; Jo Ann (JoJo) Ducharme, Native American Studies Department Faculty; Salisha Old Bull, Native American Studies Department Faculty; Shandin Pete, Hydrology Instructor; stand in celebration with the 2017 SKC graduating class on Saturday. (Lailani Upham photo)

“Graduation is a success story,” Smith said.

Smith told the students to share their story with others. “Your success may inspire others to follow your path,” he said.

SKC 2017 Student of the Year, Robin Maxkii, member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians, addressed the graduates with her list of recognitions, but said the most incredible achievement is standing with the nearly 200 graduates in another “amazing achievement” together.

“While we are now armed with more education than we had before, we are also now armed with more friends than we knew before. Our friends become our traveling companions in life’s journey and while we can’t choose, we do get choices — make them wisely,” she said. “Because people are so much more important than the material stuff in our lives.” 

Montana State Director of Indian Affairs Jason Smith, Kootenai and SKC alumni, addresses the graduates to make their communities, tribes, families and Montana proud. (Lailani Upham photo)Montana State Director of Indian Affairs Jason Smith, Kootenai and SKC alumni, addresses the graduates to make their communities, tribes, families and Montana proud. (Lailani Upham photo)

Maxkii told her fellow graduates to keep their friendships and continue to seek out mentors on the their forward journeys.

“For those of you who are continuing on to become teachers and scholars, remember that the bonds between student and teachers can be close and lifelong and that simple words of encouragement can mean the world of difference.”

Maxkii’s advice came with a journey of experience on the campus of Salish Kootenai College. She told the graduates when she first arrived on campus, like many, she spent some quarters alone.

“I chose to focus my free time on achieving things outside of school — publishing articles, creating proposals — to stave off the loneliness. I would take walks to clear my head. I told myself, ‘It will be okay, just keep your head down and go to school, graduate, then leave.’”

SKC President Sandra Boham reaches up to give graduate and Bison baller, Darrel (D.J.) Fish a hug; one of many hugs Boham gave out on Saturday. (Lailani Upham photo)SKC President Sandra Boham reaches up to give graduate and Bison baller, Darrel (D.J.) Fish a hug; one of many hugs Boham gave out on Saturday. (Lailani Upham photo)

Maxkii said life rarely goes as planned. “I started making friends,” she said. “It started with one student and then it spread.”

As she is ready to move on from the SKC family she grew with — words can’t explain the emotions she carries inside from the friendships she made at SKC.

“I felt beyond bonded with students at those moments, I felt love for those moments, I felt love for the students. More importantly, I felt love for myself.”

She added that life does not go as planned and tragedy and ill fortune does strike.

“That first year here my personal world seemed to crumble,” she said. “Just as I started to make friends, my mother was diagnosed with cancer; my father has wet brain; my grandfather passed away; and my grandmother had Alzheimers.”

Off to the side of the stage family and friends take photos and capture video footage with the newest in camera technology– smart phones. (Lailani Upham photo)Off to the side of the stage family and friends take photos and capture video footage with the newest in camera technology– smart phones. (Lailani Upham photo)

Maxkii said she considered running away; or dropping out. “I contemplated my worth,” she said. “I contemplated death.”

She said it was the students at SKC that gave her strength to keep on keeping on. “It was you, this ragtag community we had built that kept me together,” she said.

She closed by encouraging the graduates to explore; be courageous; and adventurous; yet not to forget their roots at SKC.

“So whatever you choose, I hope you choose not to be some quiet shy stereotype,” Maxkii said.

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