FARMINGTON, NEW MEXICO – In her Navajo dress and silver and turquoise jewelry, Dartmouth College-bound Tia Folgheraiter flashed big, white smiles during the 2017 Chief Manuelito Scholarship an awards ceremony at San Juan College in Farmington, N.M., on Friday.
Tia is one of ten 2017 Tuba City High School graduates to earn the Navajo Nation’s most prestigious annual scholarship. But she’s the only one of the 147 scholarship award recipients to choose Dartmouth.
An educational phenomenon is occurring as schools from communities all across the Navajo Nation and beyond see Navajo students in increasing numbers earn the Chief Manuelito Scholarship to take them to colleges and universities all across the country. Kirtland Central High School in Kirkland, N.M., for instance, holds the distinction of producing the most Chief Manuelito scholars this year with an impressive 14 recipients.
From Monument Valley, Ganado and Many Farms to Window Rock, Red Mesa and Chinle, they go to institutions like Stanford, Pennsylvania State University and Diné College. Many elect to stay close to home at schools Northern Arizona University, Arizona State University, Fort Lewis College or New Mexico State University. Some, like Luke Bastian of Seton Catholic Preparatory School in Chandler, Ariz., and Ian Kee of Kirtland Central High chose to go as far at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brigham Young University in Hawaii.
The Chief Manuelito Scholarship was established in 1980 to provide scholarships to high achieving Navajo high school graduates. They are awarded based on ACT/SAT test scores and final high school grade point average. Students receive $7,000 annually to cover direct educational expenses associated with attending a post-secondary institution.
Students must complete required Navajo language and Navajo government courses prior to high school graduation.
Once in college, they need to maintain a 3.0 GPA and be a full-time student. If they do, they can receive their scholarship for four years. Recipients must then re-apply each academic term so that ONNSFA know that they’re continuing in school.
Each year, Salt River Project and Navajo Generating Station help sponsor the ceremony with a $5,000 donation to the Office of Navajo Nation Scholarship & Financial Assistance. However, the Navajo Project, which includes NGS and Peabody Energy, contribute $250,000 annually to ONNSFA for scholarships.
David Felix, SRP’s manager of fuels
whose department makes the donation, told the graduates that, just like them, scholarships paved the way for him to complete his mechanical engineering degree at New Mexico State University.
“SRP is extremely proud to be part of this scholarship program because, like the Navajo Nation’s leaders, we are keenly aware of the importance education plays in Arizona’s future,” he said. “We help fund this program because we believe the Chief Manuelito scholarships help young people improve and sustain their education, wisdom and culture while also making a positive and lasting impact in this community.”
San Juan College President Toni Pendergrass welcomed Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, Vice President Jonathan Nez, parents, scholars, sponsors and the scholarship office staff to her campus. She said the college has formed a strong partnership with the scholarship office.
“In the last three years, this office awarded $2.5 million in scholarships to San Juan College students,” she said.“Out of 1,108 community colleges in the country, we’re number one for awarding certificates to Native American students and we’re number two in the nation for awarding associate degrees,” she said.
Vice President Nez reminded the Chief Manuelito scholars of the important Navajo teaching grandparents pass down of T’á hwó ájít’éego, which means “it’s up to you to succeed,” and to be assertive and confident.
“A college degree is more than a piece of paper,” he said. “It’s legitimacy. It’s legitimacy off the Navajo Nation. Go experience the world but come back. Go out and never give up what you pursue.”
President Begaye told the scholars that when he travels the country, Navajos often introduce themselves to him as Chief Manuelito scholars.
“I hear that all over,” he said. “That’s the high status on Navajo and out there. When you have received this scholarship, that means you have some brains. That means you’re smart, you study hard and you’re a little bit nerdy.”
“We love studying, love to read, love to learn things,” he said. “We’re just like sponges. I tell my staff that there’s no such thing as information overload, and I know you’re just like that. You will be lifetime learners, and that’s what we need on the Navajo Nation.”
Keynote speaker Martha Daily, a 1991 Chief Manuelito scholar, leadership trainer and life skills coach, told the students that throughout their lives they will have the honor of being Manuelito scholars, and with that comes the distinction that the name implies.
“We come from a very great legacy, a very proud nation,” she said. “We come from people that weren’t ever meant to survive. We were never meant to be here today as Navajo people. But with great leaders, with great leadership from people that had a vision, that had a dream, we’re here today, and there’s a lot of power in that statement.”