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2014 SKC Graduation is largest yet

By Adriana Fehrs

SKC students anxiously wait in line before they receive their degrees. SKC held a graduation ceremony on June 7. (Adriana Fehrs photo)  SKC students anxiously wait in line before they receive their degrees on June 7. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

PABLO – The Salish Kootenai College Joe McDonald Gym was full of anticipation on June 7. Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, gave the commencement address at the largest graduation SKC has seen yet.

SKC students did not don a traditional cap and gown for their graduation ceremony, but never-the-less 190 students received degrees on Saturday; the biggest graduating class yet for SKC. (Adriana Fehrs photo) SKC students did not don a traditional cap and gown for their graduation ceremony, but never-the-less 190 students received degrees on Saturday; the biggest graduating class yet for SKC. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

The sound of Chief Cliff Drum beating heavily on their drums welcomed in the 190 SKC graduates. Spotlights fixed on Francis Auld, Co-Director of the CSKT Tribal Heritage Resource Office, as he gave the invocation. He shared a song with the audience before Robert DePoe, SKC President, addressed the crowd. “It is an honor to be here with you today. Thirty-seven years ago, brilliant minds made a small, one-room class. Now, we are ever moving forward,” says DePoe. The president celebrated the advancements SKC has made: ecofriendly facilities and education opportunities for parents, as well as providing tuition fee waivers for tribal descendants.

Francis Auld, Co-Director of the CSKT Tribal Heritage Resource Office, welcomes friends and family at the SKC graduation ceremony on June 7. (Adriana Fehrs photo) Francis Auld, Co-Director of the CSKT Tribal Heritage Resource Office, welcomes friends and family at the SKC graduation ceremony on June 7. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

Carole Lankford, CSKT Tribal Vice-Chair, spoke a few wise words to the graduates. “Your graduation is an educational milestone; not everyone gets to experience this. Keep moving forward,” she says. Jim Durglo, SKC Board of Directors Chairman, was next to speak; he congratulated the graduates on behalf of the SKC Board of Directors.

Loga Fixico, SKC 2014 Student of the Year, gave the student address. Fixico told the audience, “I’m going to talk about infinity, because I believe we are infinite. We have an infinite ability to grow, and to love.” He encourages the graduates to pass their ‘infinity’ on to the next generations.

Amanda Harriman smiles as she shakes hands with SKC President Robert DePoe. The SKC graduated received her degree in the Bachelors of Arts Business Entrepreneurship. (Adriana Fehrs photo) Amanda Harriman smiles as she shakes hands with SKC President Robert DePoe. The SKC graduated received her degree in the Bachelors of Arts Business Entrepreneurship. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

The most anticipated speech of the ceremony came from Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, when he gave the commencement address. He focused on giving back. “A graduate from SKC, grounded in traditions, will give back to the tribe, even if far away from the reservation,” he said on Saturday. Duncan then exclaimed his positivity for the future. “These SKC students will follow their passion and will manage uncertainty well with tenacity and grit for the rest of their lives.”

Duncan then took the time to congratulate DePoe for his accomplishments. He shared the struggles that DePoe, and many others, have faced. He explains that it wasn’t a smooth road getting to where DePoe is now; the SKC President attempted college in North Idaho, but ultimately dropped out to come back to his hometown of Polson to work at the lumber mill. But Failure did not stop DePoe; he enrolled at South Utah University and received his master’s degree, and later returned to the tribe to work. Duncan tells them to remember this story, and use it for motivation in the future. “I promise you, I’ve failed. The question isn’t if you will face adversity, but rather if you will learn from it,” says Duncan.

The first ever SKC hydrology students graduated on Saturday. Their instructors Shandin Pete and Tony Berthelote stand with them. Pictured left to right: Shandin Pete, Samuel Wall, Jacob Feistner, and Tony Berthelote.  The first ever SKC hydrology students graduated on Saturday. Their instructors Shandin Pete and Tony Berthelote stand with them. Pictured left to right: Shandin Pete, Samuel Wall, Jacob Feistner, and Tony Berthelote.

Duncan requested the graduates to ‘pay it forward’. “I want you to consider who helped you get here today. “ He left with those last words lingering in the air before Sandra Boham, SKC Vice President, spoke.

Boham presented SKC Instructor Doug Ruhman with the 2014 Teacher of the Year award. She says the nominations came from fellow SKC staff. Ruhman received the award for his involvement with the Porter Middle School of Missoula, and the several committees he serves on. “Any of his student will say he is always accessible.”

SKC graduate Rayel Brown gets pelted with silly string on June 7 after the graduation ceremony. Brown received an Associates of Arts in Life Science. (Adriana Fehrs photo) SKC graduate Rayel Brown gets pelted with silly string on June 7 after the graduation ceremony. Brown received an Associates of Arts in Life Science. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

Next, Jim Durglo announced the Honorary Degree Award. The award recognizes tribal elders that have contributed to the education field by some means, whether it was by contributing to culture, history, or quality of life. The awards were given out to Rachael Arlee-Bowers, Tony Incashola, and Karen Kapi.

After the three elders received their awards, Boham announced the 2014 SKC graduates. The students stood in line as they anxiously waited their turn to step up onto the stage and receive their diplomas.

The celebration came to a close after Tony Incashola gave the closing prayer.

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