TWIN ARROWS, Ariz. - Of the 113 Navajo students from Reservation high schools who qualified for the Navajo Nation's Chief Manuelito Scholarship award, nine are from Tuba City High School.
The Navajo Nation Scholarship office established the scholarship in 1980 to reward and recognize outstanding academic achievement and relieve some of the expense of higher education. The Chief Manuelito scholarship is worth $7,000 a year to help pay for tuition, books, lab fees and other secondary education costs for Navajo enrolled high academic achievers.
Nearly $1 million from the Navajo Nation will help pay for this year's 113 scholarships.
A special celebration to honor the recipients recently took place at Twin Arrows Casino. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly along with many other tribal dignitaries were on hand to honor the students.
Chief Manuelito, for whom the scholarship is named, was a respected Navajo Nation "war chief" who resisted foreign domination and led the Navajo resistance against U.S. military efforts to move the Navajo people from their original homeland to forced captivity in the Bosque Redondo. Many people respect Manuelito for voicing and acting on his own strong moral and Navajo traditional convictions. As a skilled negotiator for peace and tribal sovereignty, Manuelito was also an advocate for American public education, because he saw a blending of both tribal culture and language with formal education as a means of survival for his people in the future.
This year's awardees from Tuba City High School are Stephanie Geneeha, Kenard Dillon, Emerald Byakeddy, Jaren Numkena, Charmayne Flatrock, Therea Begay, Tristan Tsosie, Kristen Becenti, Shelden Coolie.
Stephanie Geneeha, daughter of Rosemary and Garry Geneeha, will be attending Arizona State University in Tempe this fall. Geneeha is also a Gates Millenium scholar and served as the 2013 graduating class salutatorian. A Navajo, Geneeha is not the first in her family to attend college. Her parents and aunts also went to varied universities. Geneeha will major in biological sciences to ready herself for a dental career. Geneeha said her family, her friends and her teachers were the ones who inspired her to pursue further education after high school.
"My maternal family was constantly telling me that education was my ticket to getting somewhere in the world and to becoming somebody," she said. "Some of the best advice I got was from my teachers at Tuba City High, Ms. Hyden and Mr. Jones. Also my two best friends were always there to support me. I want a better life for myself and I know that the people who love and respect me, also want something good for me too. They want me to succeed. So they keep telling me, take advantage of your educational choices and they remind me of what I have already accomplished. A single person is weak, but having all this love and support of others behind you, makes all the difference."
Kenard Dillon II, son of Maxine Sandoval and Kenard O. Dillon, is headed to Harvard University.
He was already en route to school during the time of this interview. He will study history but is interested in pursuing a political and governmental career once he's finished with his undergraduate work.
Dillon said he would like to get his bachelor's degree then move onto law school to study constitutional law and eventually he would like to run for president of the United States. Dillon is of the Navajo, Hopi and Apache tribes and is the first Apache to go to Harvard on scholarship. Dillon is also a multi-award winner from Tuba City High and is a Gates Millenium Award recipient. Dillon said he will use his award money to help pay for tuition, a computer and computer software. He is the first person in his immediate family to go to college.
Isabella Robbins, the daughter of Cynthia and Tony Robbins, is part Navajo. She will be heading to Stanford University and is waiting to formally declare a major but is thinking that she would like to pursue a double major in both business and dance. Her inspiration for higher education are her two sisters, her parents and her maternal grandparents. She'll use her award for tuition. Robbins says she picked Stanford because she loves everything about California. The University of Arizona also accepted her with a full ride scholarship. She would ultimately like to come back home to Tuba City and help establish a full program art school.
"I can see how many of my relatives and friends here have a really solid art emphasis but it's just not nurtured like it should be, but a local art school would change all that," she said.
Therea Begay, the daughter of Rosita Littleman and Leo Begay, will be a freshman at the University of Arizona this fall. She will major in pre-neuroscience and cognitive science and is the first person in her immediate family to go to college.
Begay has two older brothers and will use her Manuelito award to help pay her tuition. Begay said she was inspired deeply by her older brother Dugan to study pre-neuroscience because he became quite ill in 2008 and his brain treatment affected her life deeply. She wants to go into the medical field and become a neurologist, so she can come back to her tribal homeland and help others afflicted with brain injuries and diseases.
Tristan Tsosie, the daughter of Jerilyn Tsinigine and David Tsosie, was the 2013 senior graduating class president and comes from a long line of Navajo higher education graduates including her mother, her aunts and her grandfather who all achieved masters in varied fields. Her grandfather currently serves as the Tuba City Unified School District Governing Board President and is a retired principal from the Tuba City district. Tsosie will attend the University of Arizona and major in pre-pharmacy. She will use her award for tuition and credits her aunt and math teacher RaeLynn McCabe for inspiring and encouraging her since she was a freshman to go to college and make a meaningful contribution to her reservation.
Emerald Byakeddy, the daughter of Anna and Emerson Biakeddy, is a multiple scholarship winner. Byakeddy is the recipient of the Chief Manuelito award along with the Gates Millenium honor and President Obama Scholarship and will attend Arizona State University in Tempe this fall.
Byakeddy will pursue a degree in biology with her career goal to become an obstetrician.
"I am really interested in biology and science, and I know it's not an easy field but its always been a fun and challenging area of study because it changes every time you go into a classroom," she said.
Byakeddy's two siblings also attended college. Her brother graduated a few years ago and her sister is a junior in college now.
The other Chief Manuelito Scholars from Tuba City High include Shelden Coolie who was not available for an interview. Coolie is already at his Naval Academy Preparatory Program and his mother, a longtime teacher at Tuba City District, accepted his award at Twin Arrows.
Jaren Numkena and Kristen Becenti were also unavailable.