“A Moment of Joy” – Five Red Cloud Indian School Seniors Earn the 2016 Gates Millennium Scholarship

posted May 2, 2016 

From left: Jacob Cousin, Isabella New Holy, Justin Mesteth, Bobby Pourier and Antone Morrison.

Spring is a time of new beginnings at Red Cloud Indian School. The hallways are filled with talk of the future—of starting college, exploring careers, and dreaming of new possibilities. After a year consumed with the challenges of college and scholarship applications, members of Red Cloud’s senior class are preparing to begin a new phase of their lives. And for five hardworking Red Cloud students, that next step involves taking on a new title: 2016 Gates Millennium Scholar.  

“When I went home, I opened my bedroom door, and there was a pretty big envelope there,” said Justin Mesteth, recounting how he learned he was a Gates Scholar. “It was a moment I won’t forget. There was a lot of relief—it was a moment of joy.”

As recipients of the Gates Millennium Scholarship, Justin and his classmates will receive funding to cover almost the entire cost of their bachelor’s degrees, and further education if they so choose, at the college of their choice. The scholarship—launched through a historic, one billion dollar gift from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—gives high-achieving minority students with extreme financial needs the chance to pursue a college education in any area of interest.

The eligibility standards for the Gates are exceptionally rigorous: in addition to having a minimum GPA of 3.3, applicants must demonstrate leadership skills and a commitment to community service. Only 1000 scholars are selected from a pool of over 53,000 applicants. For those who earn the scholarship, it represents an extraordinary opportunity to pursue both personal and professional dreams.

“I’m not surprised that these five students received the Gates… all of them have worked incredibly hard to get where they’re going,” said Clare Huerter, Red Cloud’s dean of students. “It takes a lot of perseverance to even apply for the Gates, and that’s the perseverance we’ve seen in them through all four years of high school.”

To date, 72 Red Cloud seniors have earned the prestigious scholarship—the highest number of any school of its size in the country. Red Cloud’s previous Gates scholars have gone on to study at universities including Stanford, Creighton, Dartmouth, and many more. This week, Red Cloud’s 2016 Gates scholars sat down to share what inspires them, what they hope for the future, and what becoming a Gates scholar means to them.

Justin Mesteth – Porcupine, SD
Ever since I was in middle school, my dad talked about the Gates…he told me to keep my grades up, and to do my best in school…he is the one who really pushed me to go for the scholarship. What made me come to my senses was when my dad went into the hospital [last year]. He’s been my only parent since I was six years old. When he went into the hospital, I came to the realization that I’m not going to be able to hold his hand anymore, that I would be living on my own. And knowing that, I had to push myself in school and do the best I could. It’s what got me to this point today.

I always had my eyes set on being an engineer, and I’m leaning more toward being a civic engineer…to fix roads and bridges. I’m interested in the profession because—looking around my reservation—a lot of the roads are falling apart and this place needs to be fixed. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a young kid, so I want to make that dream a reality.

Jacob Cousin – Oglala, SD
Before last summer I had no clue what I was going to do for my future or where I was going to go to college. But I went to the TheatreBridge [program] at Brown University, and that made me realize what I actually want to do.

There was a point [in the Gates application process] when I did doubt myself, and I started comparing all of my essays to other people’s. And it took a lot of teachers to tell me, “You’re your own person, you have your own story.” I finally [submitted the application], and I was amazed and shocked when I made the second round. I was so thankful for everyone who told me to do to it, because look at where I’m at now. It all paid off in the end.

Isabella New Holy – Pine Ridge, SD
The whole time that I was writing…I didn’t let anyone read my essays. We had a whole class to prepare for the Gates, but I didn’t even let my teacher read them because they were just so personal, and I was insecure about it. But when I finally did let my teacher read them she was just in shock. She [told me], “You have so many amazing stories to tell! You need to let people read them; these are amazing.” And that really sparked my confidence.

Antone Morrison – Pine Ridge, SD
It was the end of the day, and I just happened to check my mail, and there it was. I couldn’t believe it, it didn’t feel real to me. It was a once in a lifetime feeling.

I’m the first in my family to go to college. My teachers and my grandmother [inspired me to apply]. She’s been there all my life. She raised me and sent me to school every day. Countless times my grandmother woke me up and drove me to school, half asleep. Once there was a snow day, but she drove me to school anyway - and that made me feel like that was important. She was serious about my education.  

Bobby Pourier – Porcupine, SD
I want to become an experimental psychologist…and take it into a PhD candidacy. With that degree, [I’ll] be able to come back to the reservation to be able to do Native American specific research. My mom is a researcher and my dad is a teacher, so they both taught me to ask questions, to be ready to learn, and to always have a desire to learn new things. There’s not a lot of research done by Native Americans. A lot of it is helicopter research that is performed on the rez and then taken off the rez. And I want to change that whole concept.

Talking to youth and being around youth made me realize the amount of change that can be brought about on the reservation and how much change that I personally can create. It made me want to work harder…to get to a position where I can educate myself and I can get experience that will be helpful to the reservation when I do come back after getting my degrees.

Beyond earning five more Gates scholarships, Dean Huerter says this year’s entire senior class has accomplished extraordinary things. They have earned acceptances to the most competitive colleges in the country, excelled in sports and volunteered in the community. But most critically for Huerter, they have learned to support one another—thanks to Red Cloud’s holistic approach to education.

“I think there’s an amazing support system at Red Cloud for these students. What I like the most about Red Cloud is that it’s such a diverse group of people who are here to help the students. And they all understand our mission of educating the whole student,” said Huerter. “Having that support to really create that foundation, in order to feel secure in their academics and secure in who they are before they go to college, is so important. And I think this [senior class]—and especially these five students—have found that here.”


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