Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Navajo Nation graduates perservere
KAYENTA, Ariz. — Autumn Kree Gilmore, 17, was among 128 graduating seniors who received their high school diplomas May 15 from Monument Valley High School.
The school district opted for a drive-thru graduation ceremony for students and visitors.
“We were able to walk across the stage, so that was very exciting for me,” Gilmore said.
“[It] made the occasion special.”
Gilmore recalls attending graduation ceremonies of her older siblings and said their ceremonies were different from hers, but they had not experienced a world pandemic like her graduating class has.
“The main differences that I noticed was the decrease in [the] crowd,” she said. “I didn’t mind this at all because I prefer smaller crowds and I’m just an introvert for the most part.”
Gilmore and other graduates may not have had huge crowds, but they did have special people in attendance to witness their accomplishments and milestones.
“I am very thankful that my immediate family witnessed my walk across the stage — my mom, Shimásání, my sister and my brothers,” she said.
Gilmore explained her last year of high school was a new experience for her in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and remote learning.
“I actually enjoyed being home and found out that being a remote learner fit my learning style and personality better than being in a traditional school setting,” she said. “My mom made sure that my brother and I had access to an internet source and the school district provided my brother and I with Chromebooks.”
Gilmore said one of the most important things for her during the remote learning season was that her mom—a single parent and a teacher at the Monument Valley high school, always made sure she completed assignments.
She said one highlight during her high school career was sports, especially volleyball.
“In the time that I played, I was able to understand the importance and history of volleyball at Monument Valley and within our family,” she said.
Gilmore said she has had a few favorite teachers over the years, but her favorite was Mr. Whaley who teaches weightlifting.
“Mr. Whaley taught me the most important life lesson, which is to stay healthy for the rest of your life,” she said. “With learning fundamental weightlifting techniques and form, I found that I became a better athlete… I jumped higher… I hit harder… ran faster and became more confident. This was an awesome thing to see.”
Gilmore said she worked hard to improve her volleyball skills over the years because she got a late start playing the sport.
“I got cut my seventh-grade year and ended high school on varsity,” she said.
She worked extremely hard to improve her volleyball skills in high school, and she said she will always remember this and will remember her time playing sports the most.
“I will definitely miss going to games, tournaments and practices, and I will definitely miss our amazing weight room and Mr. Whaley,” she said.
Gilmore said she is going to miss her teachers that taught and guided her throughout the years. She said she is extremely thankful for their dedication and motivation.
“[Thank you] Mr. Whaley for teaching me a lot about body mechanics and overall importance of health. Ms. Michelle Seaton, my algebra teacher, who genuinely cared about her students and was just a very nice person. Mr. Jeremie Zulaski, my AP Studio Art teacher, who helped me improve my art skills and this allowed me to be more confident with my talent,” she said. “These teachers helped and cared for me. Without them, I don’t know what I would have done?”
What’s next for Gilmore?
Gilmore said she plans to further her education in art.
“After taking AP Studio Art this past year, I know that I would like to develop my talent and study art in school,” she said. “I plan to take some online courses through Chandler-Gilbert Community College and get a part-time job.”
Gilmore is a Navajo tribal member from Kayenta and said her lineage stems from Tsełchííbitó, Red Rock Springs. Her mother is Treva Gilmore, her maternal grandparents are Gladys Yellowhair and her late grandfather was Thomas Yellowhair who helped raise Gilmore and her siblings. Her paternal grandparents are Jerry and Marti Gilmore.
Her clans are Todích’íí’nii (Bitter Water Clan), she is born to Irish/English, her maternal grandfather’s clan is Tł’ááshchí’í (Red Bottom People Clan), and her paternal grandfather’s clan is Tó aheedlíinii (Water Flows Together Clan).