What's up doc?

Fall 2011 Red Cloud Country

When Delphine Red Shirt ’75 completed her course requirements at Red Cloud High School one semester early, she knew it would be far from the last of her days in a classroom. In fact, the ambitious senior wasn’t even going to attend her high school graduation to prove that point.

“I told my classmates, ‘When I walk across a graduation stage, it’ll be to get my college degree,” she says.

It was a promise kept. Red Shirt spent the spring of her senior year working at Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary. She also spent time honing her writing skills, even publishing a poem in Red Cloud Country. Hungry for knowledge, she skipped graduation and left the reservation that fall to attend Regis University in Denver—a Jesuit college close to home that welcomed her with open arms. Fostering solid relationships with teachers and advisors, she says, has always been key to her success.

“I was one of the first Native Americans to attend Regis,” she recalls. “My advisor was Fr. Michael Sheeran, S.J., who is now the president there. His guidance was really important to me…he encouraged me to keep going.”

And go she did. During her sophomore year of college, she took some time off and went into the United States Marine Corps, where she says she gained the discipline she needed for college. She went back to Regis and graduated with a degree in accounting in 1980.

After numerous jobs that didn’t quite fulfill her life’s purpose, she returned to school—this time at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where she earned a master of arts in liberal studies in 1995. Soon after, she published her first book and began teaching at Connecticut College and Yale University.

“When I met my first students at Yale, I saw how they responded to me,” she says. “I realized how important my teaching was to their future. I realized this was what I was meant to do.”

Today, Red Shirt is finishing a doctoral degree in American Indian studies from the University of Arizona while teaching writing and rhetoric at Stanford University in California. When she completes her dissertation on Lakota oral tradition, she will join the ranks of six other Red Cloud graduates who have earned PhDs. She hopes her self-determination is an inspiration to students everywhere.

“I tell high school students today that they cannot succeed without college. They need to focus on their studies now and think about where they want to be in 10 years,” she says. “It’s hard for them to hear this, but 30 years from now they’re not going to remember all of their classmates…who was popular and who was not. If they want to explore life, they need to become advocates for themselves. Study hard. And empower themselves for all of our futures as Oglala Lakota people.”