Photos by the Office of the President and Vice President
The Office of Navajo Nation Scholarship and Financial Assisted congratulated many of the 110 students who qualified for the Class of 2023 Chief Manuelito Scholarship at an award ceremony at Twin Arrows Resort near Flagstaff, Ariz. on July 28.
Dr. Ferlin Clark, ODSI Program Manager, acted as Master of Ceremonies and welcomed the students and guests to the ceremony.
“This is your day, we want to celebrate you, and honor your achievements,” Dr. Clark said.
He stated that attaining their success is a crucial foundation for their futures, “Education is the key, the great equalizer.”
Venturing into the world
Acting Superintendent Claudia Edgewater told the crowd it was an honor to have everyone at the ceremony and that it was a great day.
“Your lives are starting. You are going to start the futures of your success today. We want you all to thank you family for being your backbone, your support, your guidance, and for being by your side,” Superintendent Edgewater said.
The Superintendent also shared an anecdote over a piece of jewelry that depicted Changing Woman she wore to the event and how it connected to her message.
“[Changing Woman is fitting], because you’re always going to be in a changing world. Always pray, always know where you come from, always value yourself because you have a purpose for what you do,” Superintendent Edgewater continued. “We want you to venture out and be what you want to be, then come back and help your people.”
Keynote Speaker and 2017 Chief Manuelito Scholar Leah M. Gaush shared her own story about her upbringing and how it led her to consider her definition of “home.” She used her story to pose a question to the students at the ceremony.
“What do you want to bring back home?” She asked, then used her own experiences as an example. “Say yes to every good opportunity, work to solve problems, work to bring solutions home. You belong in this nation, you belong in this world.”
The right attitude
Multiple speakers throughout the ceremony reiterated to students that having a proper positive attitude is a key starting point to achieving their goals.
“It costs nothing to have a good attitude. You can’t go anywhere until you change it, and make sure you sprinkle in kernels of support wherever you go,” Dr. Clark said.
Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren credited the value of education in being what led him to the presidency. He told the students that the path to their own success begins with them.
“Believe in yourselves. There will be times when you’ll be tested, times you are challenged, and times when when you will want to quit. But you can control everything that comes out of you. You have so many possibilities,” President Nygren said.
The President also shared four pieces of advice for the graduates to help them on their own journeys into adulthood.
“Number one: give respect first, and continue to give it. Number two: believe in yourself. Number three: remain humble. And number four: have a little fun and don’t be afraid of hard work. Go and be the best role model for [our people and your family],” President Nygren said.
Vice President Richelle Montoya said the gathering and celebration of the students’ parents and families began with their birth, their first laugh, first cry, and that the strength of their support and love should continue to carry them through their lives.
“From the moment your existence began your destiny was set,” Vice President Montoya said. “The Navajo Nation is 400,000 strong today across 27,000 square miles. We want you to be brave, be kind, and continue to speak our Navajo language.”
Honoring Manuelito’s legacy
The Navajo Nation established the Chief Manuelito Scholarship program in 1980 to recognize high-achieving high school graduates and university students. The scholarship honors Chief Manuelito, 𝘏𝘢𝘴𝘵𝘪𝘪𝘯 𝘊𝘩’𝘪𝘭𝘩𝘢𝘢𝘫𝘪𝘪𝘯, who encouraged the Navajo people to seek education and protect and preserve Navajo tradition and culture.
Dr. Jennifer Denetdale, Chair & Professor American Studies at the University of New Mexico, spoke about the legacy of Chief Manuelito and his strength and tenacity during the Long Walk.
“[Chief Manuelito] said ‘My intention was to hold onto our future with everything we have, that our children shall be our future.’ He had a vision and thought long-term,” Dr. Denetdale told the crowd.
She said the students’ own strength is demonstrated through their success.
“Remember the stories of our grandparents, our ancestors, what they went through, what they survived, endured. They had courage, and that’s what we have in our blood. [Your] faith, courage, prayers, will continue to be what we are. You are our future,” Dr. Denetdale said.
For a full list of 2023 Chief Manuelito Scholars, visit the ONNSFA Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ONNSFA.
For more information on ONNSFA, the Chief Manuelito Scholarship, and the application, visit https://onnsfa.org/.