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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Renaissance Girl
by Cindy Yurth - Tséyi' Bureau, Navajo Times

Chinle teen graduates with armload of awards

CHINLE, AZ - Taneesha Watson had to cancel our first interview - she had forgotten to bring her awards to school with her, and couldn't remember all of them.

Anyone who attended Chinle High School's awards banquet could forgive her. Watson claimed so many honors she wore out a path between her seat and the stage.

First, of course, there was the honor roll, which was to be expected when you have a 4.1 grade-point average. Then there were the high school's academic awards: one each in English, economics and physics.

But the 18-year-old, a standout on the school's basketball and volleyball teams, also picked up two sports honors - the All-America award for her basketball prowess and a Distinguished Athlete certificate from the U.S. Marine Corps.

But wait, there's more!

She's also an artist and Chinle High art teacher Karen Coor recognized her with a certificate of excellence for her ceramics projects.

And let's certainly not forget she's a Gates Millennium scholar.

Sadly, she didn't receive any honors in her favorite subject, math. But it's a bit hard to shed any tears for this teen, who, in addition to being bright and athletic, is tall and slim with a million-dollar smile.

And modest.

Watson doesn't think she's smarter or stronger than the average person, just a better time manager. She hates to be bored, so she fills her days with productive activities.

"I can't stand to just sit around doing nothing," Watson said, proving it by tapping her foot throughout the half-hour interview with the Navajo Times.

When a lecture gets boring in one class, she quietly pulls out her homework for another class.

When she's not throwing pots or shooting hoops, she's helping out at the home of an elderly family member.

As for succeeding in school, that's no big secret.

"I just do the work I'm supposed to do, and turn it in on time," shrugged Watson, who is Honágháahnii, born for Kinyaa'áanii.

And sometimes a little extra.

"I'm satisfied with A's, but I aim for A-pluses," she stated matter-of-factly.

Watson hopes to go to Dartmouth College next fall, but hasn't heard yet from the Ivy League school. She has an offer from St. Louis University, but says if she can't go to Dartmouth, she'll probably stay in state.

Watson said she fell in love with the East while attending the summer program at Phillips-Exeter in New Hampshire a couple of years ago.

"It's a new hemisphere with a lot of different people to meet," she said.

Plus she has a cousin already in Dartmouth in case she gets lonely.

As her main motivators, Watson credits her parents, Stanford Watson and Debbie Mitchell-Watson.

They're both school district employees - her dad is parts manager in the maintenance division and her mom's a fourth-grade teacher - so education was something that was always stressed in her family.

Her masání, Betty Mitchell, is also a guiding light.

"Even though she lives in Tuba (City), she tries really hard to come out and spend time with all her grandkids," Watson said.

The youth said she's been fortunate to have a lot of great teachers along the way, but her favorite is probably her English teacher, Parsifal Smith-Bouquet.

"He spends a lot of time trying to get all his students into college," she said. "One week, we just searched schools on the Internet. He made us apply to like at least five schools."

Getting into college won't be a problem for Taneesha Watson. But with all her different talents, she might have a tough time deciding what to study when she gets there.

At the moment she's leaning toward kinesiology - the mechanics of body movements - and maybe ending up as a physical therapist or sports medicine specialist. She'd also like to coach basketball.

Whatever she goes into, one thing's for sure: "I plan to come back to the reservation," she said.

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