Over 350 family members, friends, and well-wishers packed the college gymnasium May 12 to congratulate the new graduates of United Tribes Technical College (UTTC). Sixty-nine students, many with beads and feathers on their mortar-board hats, were honored during the college’s spring commencement ceremony.
“I want you to dream, I want you to hope,” said guest speaker Dr. David E. Yarlott Jr., president of Little Big Horn College in Montana. “Don’t be afraid to take on challenges. If I had sat back, I wouldn’t be a college president today.” Yarlott has been president of Little Big Horn since 2002. He is currently chair of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), an association of the nation’s 37 member tribal colleges.
Yarlott used his own path in higher education as an example for how tribal college graduates can succeed. “I grew up on the Crow reservation, went to the local public schools, and off the reservation to a university; experienced culture shock, quit and came back home,” he said. Then he heard about Little Big Horn College starting up and out of curiosity he enrolled. “From there on it just seemed to roll,” he said, taking him forward in education to and through earning a doctorate at Montana State University.
“Even if things seem a little scary, challenge yourself,” he told the graduates. “You have more in your heart than you know. If nobody else believes in you, believe in yourself. It can get lonely, but persevere. There’s always going to be challenges; there’s always going to be failure. But don’t let failure stop you. Use that as a learning tool, a stepping stone, to get to where you want to be.”
Yarlott commended and congratulated the students for putting in the long hours and hard work to graduate. UTTC grads came from 18 different tribal nations. He urged them to push on and not to stop. “Whether it’s in a career or continuing with education, you have to sacrifice,” he said, “and often be away from family, in order to gain.”
The graduates selected as their class motto a quote from former First Lady Michelle Obama: “We’ve got a responsibility to live up to the legacy of those who came before us by doing all that we can to help those who come after us.” UTTC commencement featured the presentation of diplomas for Bachelor of Science and Associate of Applied Science degrees, and certificates of completions. Ten graduates earned the four-year B.S. degree in business administration and nine in criminal justice. The ceremony concluded the 2016-17 academic year and was followed by a traditional meal for all who attended. The Wise Spirit Singers rendered honor songs.