Authors of their own destiny

Graduation packed our chapel with students, families and our staff. When St. Joseph’s only went up to eighth grade, several traditions were started to make a big deal about this level of graduation. Now, we tell students we hope this is the first of several graduations, but we still celebrate with lots of pomp and circumstance. Twenty-one young men and women proudly walked down the aisle of the chapel, while their houseparents read a brief bio of their home and tribe, favorite memories of St. Joseph and future plans. Most (18 or 19) will stay with us next year and continue in Chamberlain High School.

Marcel Felicia at St. Joseph's Indian School's graduation.
Marcel Felicia congratulating one of the recent graduates.

Marcel Felicia, who graduated in the same place in 1975, was our graduation speaker. He just completed a Master’s degree in Public Health Administration.

He told the Native American students that while there are a lot of chapters of their book of life yet to be written, they are in large part authors of their own destiny.

The next chapters depend on the choices they make, so he urged them to make good and wise ones. Due to generosity of donors, we had scholarship money available to help Marcel further his education. He told me that it had long been a dream, but the scholarship helped make that dream a reality.

A candle burned on the altar, symbolizing our many donors whose generosity makes a good education here possible. We ran an internet campaign where folks could light a candle for their hometown and include an inspirational message of support to our students. When I last checked, something like 3,400 people from across the country had logged in with heartfelt messages of congratulations!

A slide show montage of students’ childhood pictures brought back memories. When I first started at St. Joseph’s this group of youngsters was in the first grade. One student has no childhood pictures from early years, which is sad. We put together happier memories of his school days here.

Native American student saying, "Pilamaya - thank you!"
“Pilamaya – thank you – for making a difference in my life!”

Each student passed out two roses and several cards to family or staff members who have made a big difference in their lives. I’m always touched to see one of our teachers, counselors or houseparents who frequently are the recipient of one of the roses because of their care and guidance.

I enjoyed meeting and celebrating with the students families. Some have been very involved in campus activities, but some I met for the first time. I hope to see all of them throughout the high school years, and especially in another celebration four years from now.