Friday, I had the honor of addressing a class of graduates at Navajo
Technical College in Crownpoint, New Mexico. The Navajo Tech graduating
Class of 2013 earned certificates in 34 fields that will provide
the tools they need to serve their community as teachers, nurses,
engineers, mechanics, bankers, chefs and countless other opportunities
all made possible by their commitment and dedication to improving
themselves through the pursuit of a higher education.
Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) play a key role in President
Obamas educational goal of making the United States home to
the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world. TCUs
are critical institutions that build tribal communities, create
good jobs across Indian Country, and provide Native Americans with
the skills they need to do those jobs.
As a community college teacher, I love seeing what a tremendous
difference a community like the one I saw at Navajo Tech can make
in the lives of its students.
impressive class of graduates included veterans like Jerrilene Kenneth,
who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as an Army mechanic, before she
became the first college graduate in her family with an Associate
Degree in Early Childhood Education. It also included Navajo Tech
Student of the Year Sherwin Becenti, who dropped out of college
more than ten years ago but returned to school in order to build
a better life for his family and set a good example for his children.
Dwight Carlston, who grew up with no running water or electricity,
was also among the graduates. Dwight maintained a 3.8 grade point
average, ran cross country, served as Student Senate President and
was recently elected as the Student Congress president of all 38
The Class of 2013 also marked a key milestone for Navajo Tech
itself as they celebrated their first student to graduate with a
Baccalaureate Degree. Dody Begay received his Bachelors Degree
in Information Technology-Computer Science a path many other
students are now planning to follow.
It is thanks to students like Jerrilene, Sherwin, Dwight, and
Dody, and their dedicated faculty and administrators, that for the
second year in a row Navajo Tech was recognized by the Aspen Institute
as one of the top 120 community colleges in the United States. It
was the only TCU and the only college in New Mexico to receive this
During my trip to the Navajo Nation, I also had the privilege
of taking part in a traditional blessing by Medicine Man Robert
Johnson who shared the traditions and spirituality of the Diné
people. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and his wife First Lady
Martha Shelly also provided a wonderful welcome to their community
with an introduction to the leadership of the tribal government.
Students from the Diné Bi Olta Language Immersion Elementary
School and Miyamura High School performed the traditional basket
and ribbon dances at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona.
you to the Navajo Nation, and the faculty, staff and students of
Navajo Technical College for welcoming me into your community. Your
drive to improving yourselves and the generations who will follow
you through a continued commitment to education sets an example
for not just Indian Country, but for communities all across America.
Congratulations to the graduates of 2013. But above all, congratulations
to your parents, your grandparents and your ancestors for having
the vision and commitment to strengthen their community by building
your college and investing in all of our futures.
Dr. Jill Biden is the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, a mother
and grandmother, a lifelong educator, a proud Blue Star mom, and
an active member of her community.