PORTLAND (June 11, 2013) — Portland State University honored indigenous graduates June 7 at an Honor Day commencement ceremony with traditional blessings, drum songs, and the presentation of Pendleton blankets and leis at the University’s Native American Student and Community Center.
Dr. Evan Adams, best know for his lead roles in Sherman Alexie’s screenplay Smoke Signals and film The Business of Fancydancing delivered the commencement address. Adams is also a medical doctor and serves as director of the Aboriginal Health program in the University of British Columbia's faculty of medicine. He drew laughs and applause as he recounted his experience starring in a hit movie while going to medical school and detailed a conversation with an elder. “The point of the exercise was not to get an A, not to get a degree, not to be better than others or to be rich, she showed me her whole life was about being a good person, year after year, decade after decade that as much as I thought I was a smart and brilliant doctor, that the goal was to be the best possible person who would look after others until the last moment, so I dare you, all of you, to do your very best with what you have. And that is very Indian.” said Adams. A video of Adam’s commencement address is available for use here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXWmfKf9I5I.
The ceremony, held annually since 1994, allows Native American, Alaskan Native and Pacific Islander students to honor their culture and share this significant accomplishment with family, said Dean Azule, coordinator of PSU's Native American Student Support Services.
There are 413 Native American or Alaskan Native students and 165 Pacific Islander students at PSU this year. “It’s encouraging to see the number of our Native students more than double since 1994.” Azule said. “These graduates worked hard and will contribute to the betterment of our communities and nations.”
Graduate Larrita Riggs earned her Child and Family Studies degree and plans to return to her family’s home on the Diné reservation in Arizona. Reflecting upon graduation Riggs said “I left the reservation with no real awareness of the inequities in the world – the appalling disparities of health, wealth, and opportunity that millions of people face. But being around so much energy and intelligence is truly inspiring. College has been exciting, intimidating, sometimes even discouraging, but it has always been challenging, in a good way. It’s been an amazing privilege – and though I am still learning — I’ve been transformed by my experiences at Portland State University.”
About PSU’s Native American Student and Community Center (NASCC)
Located in Portland, Oregon, PSU has about 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The NASCC provides a “cultural home” for Native American, Alaskan Native and Pacific Islander students to connect with other students, faculty, staff and community members in an inclusive and supportive environment. At the Center, students may build community, receive assistance in support of their academic goals, and explore and develop cultural identities and intercultural alliances. Those wishing to contribute to scholarships for students committed to the betterment of indigenous communities can contact Dr. CeCe Ridder, Executive Director of Diversity and Multicultural Student Services, at 503-725-4457.