‘Our World Needs You’
First lady's speech to Santa Fe Indian School graduates charges them to spread their values to the rest of the countryLocal NewsThursday, May 26, 2016
To go forth and change not just the world, but what the world thinks of you, became the charge given to the 2016 graduates of the Santa Fe Indian School by first lady Michelle Obama, as well as the class's salutatorian and valedictorian.
"Your communities need you—they need you to develop your potential and become who you are meant to be," Obama said. "And more than ever before, our world needs you, too. And you don’t need your first lady to tell you that. All you have to do is tune into the news and you’ll see that right now, some of the loudest voices in our national conversation are saying things that go against every single one of the values that you’ve been living at this school.
"They’re telling us that we should disrespect others because of who they are or where they come from or how they worship. They’re telling us that we should be selfish—that folks who are struggling don’t deserve our help. That we should just take what we can from life and not worry about anyone else. And they’re saying that it’s OK to keep harming our planet and using our land, our air, our water however we wish. But graduates, you all know that those are not the values that shape good citizens. Those are not the values that build strong families, and communities, and nations.
"So we desperately need your voices and your values in this conversation, reminding us that we are all interconnected, all obligated to treat one another with respect. To act with integrity. To give back to those in need."
Her calls to them to overcome challenges and persevere echoed the comments made by Salutatorian Chyanne Quintana (Ohkay Owingeh/Santa Clara) and Valedictorian Emanuel Vigil (Jicarilla Apache), who told their classmates to remember where they came from, the love and support they found at SFIS, the friendships they forged, their unified and tolerant community, and all they had been able to achieve.
"Despite statistics and perceived stereotypes of Native Americans, you proved them all wrong," Vigil said. And whenever you go, whatever you do next, he added, that task will continue, as they must endeavor to change minds about Native Americans. He gave them a few words of wisdom from Lady Gaga to take along the way: "Remember you are a superstar and you were born this way."
The first lady spent much of her speech talking about her own life experiences, a tough childhood laced with obstacles but filled with the values and priorities that led her from the Southside of Chicago, from a great-great-grandfather who was the property of another man and parents who grew up in segregated schools, to raise daughters who wake up every morning in the White House.
“I heard that when you were first brainstorming about who to invite to your commencement and someone suggested me or my husband, some of you thought that that was an impossible dream—that it just wasn’t realistic to think that people like us would ever visit a school like this one,” Obama said. “Well, today, I want you to know that there is nowhere I would rather be than right here with all of you. Because while I might have grown up across the country … and while my journey may be a bit different than yours, when I learned about all of you, it was clear to me that our stories are connected and that your values—the values that infuse this school—are the very same values that my parents handed down to me.”
She called on them to see the challenges that test them as their greatest strengths and to ask for help immediately upon needing it when they arrive at college.
The gym at the SFIS Pueblo Pavilion was packed to capacity, with additional attendees watching from an overflow room. All three superintendents who have served SFIS since its inception in 1977 also attended. The school saw an 87 percent cohort graduation rate, said Roy Herrera, superintendent of SFIS, and its students secured $5 million in scholarships.
"Who you are today, your families supported your transformation," Herrera said. "Who you will be is in your hands and your spirit."
"I still can't believe it, honestly. I had it in the back of my mind since the beginning of the year, and now that the day is come, I still believe it’s not happening, especially with Mrs. Obama here," said Eddie Humetewa, who graduated today from SFIS. Humetewa comes from the San Felipe, Santo Domingo and Santa Ana pueblos. His father attended SFIS, and his great-grandfather helped found the school, helping to secure the land grant and speaking with Pueblo leaders to recruit their students to the school when it started.
“The way she speaks to Native youth is so eloquent, and I love the way she really wakes us up and kind of gives us the momentum we need," Humetewa says. “What she’s been doing, talking to us about changing, I guess empowering us, essentially, empowering us to do what we want, to think however we want and to be in charge of our own destiny."