Red Cloud grads thriving at southwestern colleges

by Liz Welch, director of student advancement and alumni support
posted on February 24, 2012

Red Cloud High School is often described as a family, a place where students and teachers are close, and the school day is much longer than 8 a.m.-3 p.m. After being part of such a supportive school system, one where everyone knows your name and where you come from, the transition from a high school senior to a college freshman can be a difficult one. Students that go off to colleges outside of South Dakota often have an especially hard time with this transition, as they deal with homesickness, cultural differences, and a heavy course load. However, just as in any family, whenever one member goes through a transition, the other members step up to help support them. Red Cloud Indian School is able to support its family members by keeping in touch with them for years after graduation.

I was fortunate enough to be able to spend just over a week visiting five alumni at four universities. My first visit was with DeAndra McLaughlin ’11 at Stanford University. DeAndra, one of the nine Gates Millennium Scholarship recipients from last year, is catching her stride as she settles into second semester. She has gotten involved in organizations around campus, including Jumpstart, a program through which Stanford students tutor elementary school children. While giving me a tour of her beautiful campus, DeAndra maturely stated that although she misses home, she has realized college is about many more people than herself.

“I will graduate from Stanford not only for myself, but for my mom, relatives, and younger students on the reservation who are looking to me as a source of inspiration and a role model,” stated DeAndra.

After being thoroughly impressed by DeAndra’s success so far at Stanford, I made my way to the University of Arizona to visit another Gates recipient, David Means ’11. I was impressed to see how well Dave was handling the transition into such a large university. Over lunch at Dave’s favorite Tucson burger joint, we talked about the keys to his success. He realized early in the year that staying busy and focused is key not only to good grades, but also to having a meaningful college experience and meeting new friends. Dave is driven to be successful and plans to go to medical school after four years of undergraduate studies. He stays motivated through the excitement of creating his own path in life, and realizing the impact his success has back home. Dave has certainly been successful in his first year of college, and will continue to build on that success. As I was boarding the plane to Santa Fe, Dave was walking into a meeting with an advisor to be sure he was on track to become “Dr. David Means” in the future.

My next visit was with Terrance Clifford ’11 and Steven DeWolfe ’11 at the Institute of American Indian Art (IAIA) in Santa Fe, NM. Both Terrance and Steven are enjoying taking classes that pertain so closely to their artistic interests, I look forward to seeing their art displayed next time I visit. They found that a small school setting worked well from them, and they have easily met friends and have good relationships with their professors. Terrance and Steven both spoke proudly of their high grades from first semester, and are hoping to get a full scholarship for next year. Steven encouraged younger Red Cloud students to venture away from home for college, stating “There is so much to learn and take advantage of at college. I enjoy traveling and learning about new places, and college provides me with those opportunities”. Terrance agreed stating, “You can always go back home, but college is the time to travel and see the world”.

After spending a day visiting and eating green chili with Terrance and Steven, I headed out to visit Raven Gray ’11 at the University of Oklahoma. Raven, a Gates recipient as well, is working hard to prove that she deserved that scholarship. Raven is going above and beyond academic expectations, and is continually challenging herself to improve. When I asked her how she stayed so motivated, she quickly replied; “I stay in contact with motivated friends like DeAndra and Dave!” Raven has been able to take advantage of resources available to her, such as a program called Threshold, which offers tutoring and mentoring to Native students at the University of Oklahoma. Raven has learned the importance of visiting with professors and getting involved on campus. It seemed that the University of Oklahoma is a perfect fit for Raven, and she proudly showed me around the campus and told me numerous stories about friends she has made and experiences she has had in her first year. Raven hopes to be an inspiration to younger students at Red Cloud, and hopes that more Crusaders will attend OU in the future.

After my visit wrapped up, it was evident to me that these members of the Red Cloud Indian School family are maturing and becoming successful young men and women. All of them are thankful for their time at Red Cloud High School, and are continuing to build on what they learned in high school in order to create their own path. These five students have also begun to realize that they are blazing the way for younger members of the Red Cloud family who are inspired by them and see them as role models. I believe that I speak for all members of the Red Cloud School community when I say that we could not be more proud of DeAndra, Dave, Terrance, Steven, and Raven, and we look forward to hearing about their continued success.