About a dozen graduating Alaska Native students from the University of Alaska Southeast celebrated Saturday, the day before the school's commencement ceremony.
UAS will be graduating a record number of students this year, as well as a record number of Alaska Native students. Including its surrounding campuses, about 50 Alaska Native students will be getting degrees or certifications this year, according Joe Nelson, UAS director of admissions.
"It's a huge milestone," Nelson said, adding that UAS had plans, including adding a new faculty position to the Alaska Native Studies program, to continue to reach out to Alaska Native students.
Nelson said Alaska Native students will use their degrees to "empower our communities."
Mary Folletti, a graduating student originally from Haines, said the sense of community at UAS among Native students was instrumental in helping her graduate.
"It's like having a whole other family here," Folletti said.
Lyle James, another graduating student, led Native students' songs and dances at Saturday's event. He said it was encouraging to see so many Native students show "courage" and obtain a diploma.
"It takes a lot of strength to leave home," said James, who is originally from Hoonah.
Alaska Natives historically have dropped out of high school at a disproportionally rate, and continue to do so.
Tish Griffin-Satre, director of student services, said that when she started working at UAS 23 years ago, there were no Alaska Native students on campus. She said it was "wonderful" to see that number growing.
"You enrich our campus, you enrich our lives," Griffin-Satre said.
Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or firstname.lastname@example.org.