GANADO — At precisely 6:55 each school day morning, Freddie Yazzie puts his bus in gear and cautiously pulls out of the bus yard beside the Ganado Unified School District main campus.
For 26 years, Yazzie has driven school buses for this quiet Navajo community, and in that time, he shaped his role beyond that of a chauffeur for the elementary, Curtis led Ganado to the 3A State Championship — the school’s one and only women’s basketball title — and her talents led her from the Navajo Reservation to Northwest Missouri State University.
“But, as I was in high school my freshman year, I saw it and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s where she went,’” Curley said. “And so after that I was like, ‘Oh, OK, so she did go on.’ So it was a reminder on Freddie’s bus. It’s not really out there, but once you get on Freddie’s bus, it’s exposed.”
Curley graduated from Ganado in 2017 and is following a path she didn’t know existed until someone from her community, Curtis – via Yazzie – showed her the way. Curley is now an athlete on the basketball team at East Los Angeles College, a long way from Ganado.
“After seeing that, I was like ‘OK, it is possible,’” Curley said. “I was so young that I didn’t understand the whole process. I thought you just play basketball and then that’s it after high school and then you go work. That’s basically what I thought. But then after seeing that I went ‘Oh, OK, basketball and school go together. I can do that.’ ”
Like Curley and Lemus, Brittany Becenti’s achievements are also a part of the Legacy of Excellence.
Becenti, who graduated from Ganado in 2009, then served as the manager for the basketball team and rode Yazzie’s bus to and from team events for three years while in high school. She rode the bus around the time he began hanging photos and later, as the 2011-12 International Indian Finals Rodeo Queen, had her portrait added to the collection.
“It’s nice to see the people that went to the same school — I know the environment — were able to be successful and made it out the same situation,” Becenti said. “It’s very rural. Opportunities are limited to what is offered to us and we don’t have a lot of access to things that are in the city.”
For years, Yazzie elevated his platform as a bus driver beyond the expectations typically associated with his job title by inspiring students and opening their eyes to opportunities they may not have been exposed to otherwise
He is currently retirement eligible but not ready to give up his route just yet. All around him, the next generation of Ganado students is growing older each day. His bus is a historical document on wheels. Someone has to be there to witness, to tell their stories.
As more local legends gain the honor of permanence in the Legacy of Excellence, more local students, inspired by those before them, are building legacies of their own.
“And I always say that these kids were sitting here one time or another, little ones, but look at what they’ve become,” Yazzie said. “Look what they did. Look what they accomplished. Never giving up. And so that’s my message to them.”
With that message, the cycle continues on. Kids receive inspiration that pushes them to become adults who return the favor to the next generation of children who sit where they once sat. The cycle is self-contained inside of the Legacy of Excellence, continuously in motion like the bulky, rubber tires that Yazzie guides through the rural Ganado roads each day.