Dr. Joely Proudfit (Luiseño)
Director, California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center
CSU San Marcos Director of Native American Academic Strategic Planning and Native Studies
This is my sixth year at Cal State San Marcos, both as a professor and as the coordinator of the American Indian Honoring Ceremony. This year’s ceremony was gratifying for me because I am proud to have seen the recruitment and retention levels of American Indian students increase over the last six years; but particularly special because I have come to advise and know well many of the graduates.
Nationwide, only 12 percent of American Indians earn college degrees; therefore, our alumni achieve more than just a personal milestone—their graduation marks a significant political, cultural and communal act that every American Indian and Alaska Native can take pride in.
The Honoring Ceremony—which is hosted by the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center at CSUSM—publically acknowledges and celebrates the hard work, dedication and achievement of a major personal milestone for American Indian students, the university and their larger tribal communities. More than 50 American Indian graduates are part of the Class of 2014 and represent tribal nations from across the United States—from as far away as the Abenaki community in Maine to local Luiseño graduates from the Rincon and Pechanga tribes.
In my closing remarks, I reminded the students what their graduation symbolizes to the larger American Indian community.
“We are all depending on you; remember it takes only one generation to demolish the work of your ancestors. Your family needs you, your people need you, California needs you, and the World needs you. So set your goals high, believe in yourself, stay inspired and you will transform the world around you. Rise up with wings like eagles, run and not get tired, walk and not become weary for you are American Indian Graduates!”
Our American Indian students are deserving of such an event because their commitment to serve, lead and inspire those that would follow their path to higher education. Therein lies the bittersweet reward of an educator as we both celebrate the accomplishments of our students—whom we have spent several years advising, mentoring and learning from—while we say goodbye knowing they are now moving on to another opportunity. I am inspired knowing that many plan on continuing their education, some here at CSUSM, others elsewhere, like Andrew Siva of the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians, who will begin earning his doctorate in Physical Therapy at the University of St. Augustine. Whatever lies ahead for our graduates, they are determined to provide an example for younger students to follow.