Student Earns Prestigious Horatio Alger Scholarship, Looks Forward to Helping Community as a Nurse

As seen on Indian Country Today Media Network
posted January 27, 2015

Red Cloud Indian School senior Jamie Rae Richards ‘15 has earned the prestigious Horatio Alger Scholarship. The competitive scholarship supports deserving young people who have overcome challenges in their lives in order to pursue higher education. For Jamie, this means she’s one step closer to achieving her dream of going to college and becoming a healthcare professional.

Red Cloud Indian School is located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where the annual per capita income is only $8,768 and six out of ten children live in poverty. Education is a major challenge on the reservation where only twelve percent of residents have earned a bachelor’s degree. At Red Cloud however, 90 percent of Jamie’s friends will go on to pursue higher education or post-secondary training after graduation.

Teachers and administrators say the high-quality curriculum, student-focused environment and programs that honor Lakota culture make all the difference.

To earn the scholarship, Jamie wrote several personal essays where she reflected on overcoming adversity in her life, how a person supported and inspired her, and how she will prevent future challenges from holding her back from her dreams. Jamie noted that the application was difficult, but with the help of Anne Grass, one of her teachers, she was was able to write strong essays and meet her deadlines.

“I’m proud of Jamie. She has developed an impressive work ethic and consistently goes above and beyond, turning in multiple drafts of work after pouring over notes and readings.” said Grass. “I get a lot of inspiration from her and believe she is very deserving of this honor.”

For her essays, Jamie focused on one of the biggest challenges she had ever faced and how she was able to continue on toward her goal with the support of her family and her faith.

“Around the same time that my parents divorced there were two suicides—a family member and my best friend,” explained Jamie. “It was one of the hardest times in my life, but my Grandma helped me get back into my culture. She took me to a sweatlodge ceremony and to other ceremonies, and it was the start of my healing process.”

“Jamie is someone who really relies on faith, both Lakota and Catholic,” said Grass. “And I think it’s phenomenal to see a student utilize her spiritually and overcome adversity again and again.”

As Jamie healed, her faith grew stronger and helped her maintain a positive outlook on life. Today, her spirituality continues to help steer and support her as she prepares for, and considers the next chapter in her life.

Now, as a 2015 Horatio Alger scholar, Jamie is looking to the future with wide eyes and nervous excitement.

“When I looked at my email and I saw the word ‘congratulations’, I seriously bawled tears of happiness. It’s just such an honor, I’m really happy to get this.”

The Horatio Alger Association states on their website that they have awarded $100,000,000 in scholarships to approximately 20,000 students across the country since 1984. The association supports low-income students by granting need-based awards to applicants who have demonstrated integrity, academic potential and a “personal aspiration to make a unique contribution to society.” Jamie will receive $7,000 to apply toward her college tuition next year.

She is still waiting to hear back from her top schools: Dartmouth College and Creighton University. Jamie knows that every little bit will help her afford the nearly $50,000 a year price tag for her dream of becoming a nurse.

“For a while I wanted to be a police officer, then a social worker, then a lawyer,” she said. “I tried to narrow down my options and I thought about how I like to help people and I thought about what I’m good at in school—my science and anatomy classes. I remembered back to my sophomore year, when my Grandfather passed away from cancer. I remembered seeing the nurses and I realized that’s what I want to do; that’s how I can help.”

Both Dartmouth and Creighton offer degrees in nursing as well as Native American support programs that Jamie believes will help her make a successful transition to college life.

“I think it will be really helpful to have a Native American program on campus,” said Jamie. “It will be difficult to not be able to smudge and have Native culture surround me constantly—so it’ll be nice to have support.”

While Jamie waits to hear back from her top schools, she continues to keep herself busy as the girl’s basketball team manager, applying for additional scholarships and dreaming about the future.

“It’s a busy time,” she said. “But I know everything will be figured out by August. I’m ready to close this chapter in my life and start the next one. But it’s going to be hard leaving this place—Red Cloud has been really good to me. When I become a nurse, I’ll definitely come back to visit and hopefully get a job at the Indian Health Services hospital.”