Red Cloud High School students lead nation in Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Scholarship recipients

Students earn unprecedented nine scholarships, the most in school’s history

posted on April 29, 2011

Nine students from Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota have been named recipients of the 2011 Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Scholarship. The seniors—all who will be attending college this fall—distinguish the institution with the most scholarship recipients per capita in the nation.

“This scholarship exemplifies and celebrates our students’ accomplishments these past four years,” says Robert Brave Heart Sr., superintendent of schools. “It’s been wonderful to have witnessed how seriously they’ve taken their education. This scholarship is testament to their commitment to higher learning. I know I speak for everyone at Red Cloud, and across the Lakota nation, when I say we are truly proud of them.”

This year’s Gates Millennium Scholars are Gina Arellano, Tynan Clark, Sonyah Clifford, Raven Gray, Kayla Iron Cloud, DeAndra McLaughlin, David Means, Kiley Weston and Billie White. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the scholarship program pays for any unmet financial need a student may have during their post-secondary studies, at any institution in the country.

“Receiving the Gates is a big accomplishment for me—it has saved my life,” says McLaughlin, who will attend Stanford University this fall. “I feel as if I have nothing to worry about. I am very thankful for this scholarship…a scholarship that gets me closer to my career dreams.”

“It’s amazing! I still can’t believe it,” adds Clifford, who will head off to the University of Arizona-Tucson this fall. “This scholarship means that I can do anything, that I can be anything. “This is my opportunity to learn, grow and come back to help the children of my tribe.”

In addition to having the highest number of Gates Scholars in the country, this year’s announcement is also a personal record for Red Cloud. Last year, six students earned scholarships, with seven the year before.

“I was in shock when my mom first told me that I got the Gates,” says Means. “With this scholarship I can now further my education without putting the burden of tuition costs on my family.”

The Gates Millennium Scholarship is awarded to students who exemplify excellence in the classroom and leadership within their own communities. Students at Red Cloud who are interested in this scholarship participate in an essay writing class, are mentored by college students and professors through a program with Creighton University and are encouraged to attend summer programs designed to teach them more about the scholarship and college application process.

“This year’s senior class is a really hardworking and focused class,” says Michael Sunderland, research and technical writing teacher at Red Cloud High School. “The Gates application process requires a lot of hard work, time and dedication. These students worked hard for it. Its very joyful that so many of the students received it, and a great honor to them all as it simply commemorates all of their hard work.”

“It really was a long, vigorous application process but education is the key to having a successful career and I am really happy and relieved that it all paid off,” says Weston. “I want to thank all of our parents, teachers—especially Mike Sunderland—and all of the mentors at Creighton who helped us and believed in us.”

“I still can’t believe it,” says Gray. “A full ride to college with all expenses paid! I know our families couldn’t be prouder, happier and more grateful.”

In total, 54 students from Red Cloud High School have been awarded the Gates scholarship since the program’s inception in 1999. Today, they are attending some of the nation’s most prestigious colleges, including Princeton University and Dartmouth College. Many Red Cloud students move on to graduate degree programs after college graduation.

Red Cloud Indian School is comprised of two elementary schools and a high school, has a pastoral and community outreach program and is home to the world-renowned Heritage Center, which celebrates Lakota and Native American art through contemporary exhibitions and a 10,000-piece permanent collection. The organization in located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, an area of the country considered one the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

Red Cloud Indian School’s 2011 Gates Millennium Scholars are planning to attend the following colleges and universities:

Gina Arellano, South Dakota State University, nursing
Tynan Clarke, Carthage College, chemistry
Sonyah Clifford, University of Arizona-Tucson, speech pathology
Raven Gray, Oklahoma University, biochemistry (pre-med)
Kayla Iron Cloud, University of Denver, nursing
DeAndra McLaughlin, Stanford University, political science (pre-law)
Dave Means, University of Arizona-Tucson, undecided
Kiley Weston, Bismarck State, physical education (pre-med)
Billie White, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, undecided