'Now it's up to them'

Native students receive degrees at Arizona State University American Indian Convocation

By Colton Shone
Special to the Times

TEMPE, Ariz., Dec. 23, 2008

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M ore than 80 Sun Devils finished writing a chapter of their lives December 18 at Arizona State University's American Indian Convocation.

Four students received their doctorates, one graduated with a law degree, four finished their master's, and 72 completed their bachelor's. However, only 32 actually participated in the ceremony.

The sound of crying babies, dozens of camera flashes, and hundreds of family members and friends filled Neeb Hall, where the ceremony was held, and watched as their loved ones walked across the stage to receive their degrees.

Many elders cried as they witnessed their grandchildren become the first ones in their family to get a college degree.

Many teary-eyed parents smiled, happy to see their children pushing themselves to succeed. Younger brothers and sisters watched in awe as they saw their older siblings take a new role in this world.

"I needed a bachelor's degree," said graduate Sharon Cini during the closing remarks, "Now, here I stand."

Fourteen years in the making, she finally achieved that goal and got her degree in American Indian studies with an emphasis on legal policy and community development.

Cini said she started her college education at Mesa Community College, but because of financial problems it took her longer than she anticipated.

"In 2006, I told myself that I had to kick it into high gear and finish it," she said, "I had to set a good example for my daughter."

A Chief Manuelito and Morris K. Udall scholar, Cini hopes to go to law school in the coming years.

Peterson Zah, former chairman and president of the Navajo Nation and special advisor to the president on American Indian affairs at ASU, said, "This is my thirty-first convocation and from what I've noticed, the audience just keeps getting bigger."

A larger crowd of Native students is expected to graduate in the spring. "Last spring we had over 300 get degrees," Zah said.

Of the 2008 graduates last spring, 22 earned doctorates and 60 earned master's degrees.

So what's next for these graduates?

"Whatever they want to do," Zah said. "We counseled them for years to help them make good choices. Now it's up to them."

For Darin Harvey, 20, another grad, going back to the reservation to help his community is a must. "This degree opens up a lot of doors for me," he said. "There are a lot of problems that I want to fix on the Navajo Reservation."

Arizona State University American Indian graduates - fall 2008


Sarah Baran, psychology; Tammy Gragg, advanced nursing practice; Christine Chee, counseling psychology; Richard Meyers, anthropology; and Rochelle Trimble, legal studies.


Roxann Austin, social work; Christina Nephew-Tsosie, social work; Melinda Gonzales-Backen, family & human development; and Sasha Pachito, urban/environment planning.


Elisa Almanzar, nursing; Andrea Anspach, economics; Cheryl Antone, criminal justice & criminology; Krysten Beard, geography; Darin Begay, mechanical engineering; Natasha Begay, nursing; Raeleen Benally, chemistry;

Donalita Bitsinnie, family & human development; Valencia Blackhorse, English literature; Dawn Brown, computer information systems; Juliane Bryant, chemistry/biology; Jacqueline Cardinet-Smith, social work;

Sharon Cini, American Indian studies; Gabriella Clitso, justice studies; Jesse Contreras, global business/international studies; MatthewCroxton, psychology; Mary Davis, elementary education (ESL);

Brooklynn Dee, nursing; Nathan Dickson, criminal justice & criminology; Selena Doka, graphic design/financial management; Charmayne Eriacho, criminal justice & criminology; Shawna Ethelbah, microbiology;

Melanie Fey, English creative writing; Ben Folsom, film; Candace French, American Indian studies/political science; Nicole Galaktianoff, kinesiology; Andrea Gonzales, elementary education; Amanda Gray, psychology;

April Greyeyes, justice studies; Darin Harvey, American Indian studies; Spencer Heape, psychology; Veronica Hill, history/political science; Jennifer Hinton, psychology; Guadalupe Holguin, social work; Phyllis Huskon, special education;

Jennifer Jackson, elementary education; Roberto Jackson, art (photography); Erica Johns, American Indian studies; Paul Jordan, art; Kevin King, philosophy; Rikki Klotzbach, accountancy; Charles Kuwanyaioma, computer systems engineer;

Melissa Leigh, exercise & wellness; Jennifer Leslie, criminal justice & criminology; Erika Lobenstein, psychology; Tonya Long, criminal justice & criminology; Lynette Lynch, kinesiology;

Marc McCraig, American Indian studies; Jay McCray, American Indian studies; Danielle Mercado, psychology; Manuel Molina, economics; Angela Moreno, special education; Geraline Moses, elementary education;

Jennifer Nieschultz, global; Christine Notah, American Indian studies/political science; Deron Peaches, accountancy; Maria Rodriguez, nursing; Michael Rutledge, special education; Leiah Scheibel, communication;

Smith Slaeton, accountancy; Carlton Smith, psychology; Angela Stanley, elementary education; Diona Storer, elementary education; Tahnisha Sungino, criminal justice & criminology; Natanya Tsosie, psychology; Paula Thompson, nursing; Vernon Upshaw, education;

Rebecca Williams, justice studies; Lisa Wiltshire, interdisciplinary studies; Ryan Wood, biology; Tamara Wright, political science; Aaron Yazzie, integrative studies.

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