Laptop winners show passion for writing, issues
By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
WINDOW ROCK, June 14, 2012
S ix college-bound students with aspirations of becoming a chemist, educator, engineer, nurse and physicist, no longer have to worry about the costs of purchasing a laptop computer when they arrive on campus this fall.
The laptops these rising college freshmen received were awards from a laptop essay contest sponsored by Miss Navajo Nation Crystalyne Curley.
Curley, who is Tsénjíkiní, born for Tó'aheedlíinii, sponsored the contest as part of her youth empowerment platform. It's also an effort by the tribal ambassador to make sure the students arrive on campus fully equipped and not at a disadvantage, something she experienced herself.
"My personal experience going through college was hard," said Curley, who was without a laptop until her junior year at Arizona State University.
Another reason Curley sponsored the contest was because it would help college freshmen in two ways - as an incentive to hone their writing, a skill that is critical to success in college, and to obtain a valuable educational tool at no cost.
With a laptop college students can take notes in class, write essays, do homework, check on classes and assignments and conduct a variety of personal business.
"One of the things I really needed help with was a laptop and I had to work really hard to get one," Curley said. "We (Native Americans) have the highest dropout rates in college and at least I could make a difference with six students."
Last month, Curley read through 65 essays from students admitted to institutions like Cornell, the University of California, Berkeley, and Union College, among others, to select the six finalists.
The six essay winners are: Alyce Billy of Tsaile, Ariz.; Kayenta native Steven Clarence Blackrock Jr.; Rolanda Chee from Ganado; Tuba City native Briana Dohi; Cody Jeff of Crownpoint; and Amber Yazzie from Chinle.
The contestants were asked to write a 700- to 1,000-word essay on "What inspired and motivated you to obtain a higher education and how will you use this education to contribute back to the Navajo?"
Curley said the finalists were selected not based on grammar and spelling but on personal narration and expression.
"I could see their personalities and, sure enough, when I met them they were exactly how I pictured them," she said. "Getting yourself on paper is what I was looking for."
Blackrock impressed Curley.
In his essay, Blackrock wrote about how he made an oath to attend college and provided explanations and factors for why some Navajos succeed and others faltered in life.
Blackrock's narrative centered on how he chose a path of positivity and how his younger cousin, Aaron, succumbed to adversity from an unstable family structure.
"I truly want to help Native youth like Aaron with many problems they currently face like teen suicide, substance abuse, poverty and I feel that the only way to escape these hardships is education," Blackrock wrote.
Curley said Blackrock, who plans to study chemistry at Phoenix College, was selected for many reasons, particularly his desire to inspire others like Aaron.
"He talked about learning from his brother's failures and how he has to go on for his family and his brother too," Curley said. "He was one of the few who had the spiritual connection and putting himself before others."
Blackrock is Nashashí Tl'ááshchí'é (Bear People Clan), born for Yé'ii Dine é Táchii'nii (Holy People Clan). His maternal grandfather is Tódích'íi'nii (Bitter Water People Clan) and his paternal grandfather is Kinlichíi'nii (Redhouse People Clan).
Curley said Dohi, who will attend Coconino Community College in Flagstaff, was another appealing writer who exhibited passion to help the Navajo people as a nurse one day.
Dohi wrote about the need to address the legacy of uranium mining contamination and other health disparities like alcoholism, depression, diabetes and HIV, which have recently become prevalent on the reservation.
"My people have inspired me to become a healer," Dohi wrote. "I have a passion for helping others and keeping them in a good state of mind."
Dohi is Tódích'íi?nii (Bitter Water People) Clan, born for Kinlichíi'nii (Red House People Clan). Her maternal grandfather is Ashiihí (Salt People Clan) and her paternal grandfather is Naakai Dine'é (Mexican People Clan).
Much like Blackrock and Dohi, Curley said the other finalists also displayed their passion for learning and the goal of returning to help their people.
"Most of these papers saw issues on the Navajo Nation and you could see how they could be spread out to help the Navajo Nation," Curley said.
And if there is one thing she took away from this experience, it is that most of the young writers looked to their mothers and grandparents as their role models.
It is those same role models that motivated Curley to attain two bachelor's degrees from ASU, in psychology and justice studies, and reign as Miss Navajo.
"I could relate to them," Curley said of the contestants. "It showed me a lot of our students have the motivation to write."