College a challenging but fulfilling journey for recent grad

posted on May 21, 2012

Matthew Shoulders ’07 graduated a couple of weeks ago from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He was generous enough to take time out of his schedule to answer some questions about this accomplishment and what led up to it, and to offer words of wisdom and support to the current graduating class and future Red Cloud students. His answers to our interview questions are as follows:

1. What degree did you graduate with? What was your major?

I graduated from the University of New Mexico with a BA in Psychology with an accompanying minor in Native American Studies. I graduated summa cum laude with a cumulative grade point average of 4.06. I am actually only two classes away from attaining a BA in Native American Studies so in the future I will definitely complete my coursework for the NAS degree.

2. Why did you choose UNM, and why do you think it was such a good fit for you?

Ironically, UNM wasn’t my first choice per se. As many people in the Red Cloud community know, I became a father during the spring semester of my senior year. My daughter’s maternal grandmother got an offer for a position here in Albuquerque working for the Bureau of Indian Education. Naturally, my daughter’s grandparents wanted to keep in close proximity to their newly born granddaughter, so I applied to UNM. I had no intentions, originally, to attend college so far away from home. It was difficult to adjust and become further complicated when my daughter and her mother moved back home. It was then that I really questioned my decision to attend UNM. But, thanks to amazing support systems (academically, family, spiritually), I decided to stay. UNM is an amazing university situated in an area of the country where diversity is the norm. There are great organizations on campus that support Native American students as well as one of the country’s top programs for pursuing scholarship in Native American Studies.

3. Why would you recommend UNM to future Red Cloud grads?

UNM offers a wide variety of majors. As stated, it has one of the best Native American Studies programs in the country, a great law program to pursue a degree in American Indian Law, also a medical program that has been deemed a great fit for Indigenous people going into medicine. The campus atmosphere is very welcoming. It is said in New Mexico that there are over 350 days of sunshine which promotes active lifestyles apart from academic life. Living in the southwest has also exposed me to the beauty of the Navajo and Pueblo cultures. Although vastly different than Lakota culture, the ideologies, philosophies and worldviews bear striking resemblance.

4. What is your next step?

I have been accepted to UNM’s Master’s Program in Counseling, with an emphasis in School Counseling. I will be beginning my graduate program this fall. There were 80 applicants to the program, 30 got interviews and 10 got selected to participate. I am the only male and the only Native American that got accepted into the program, so I am representing our young Lakota men in higher education. I am anxious to start my program but ready to further my career in post-secondary education.

5. What are your future career plans?

After attaining my Master’s, I plan on gaining work experience in the field of counseling and afterward, I have aspirations to pursue my PhD in Counseling. I have always envisioned myself working in a Native American community, but ideally, I would like to return home to the Lakota people. A couple weeks ago I reviewed the Bureau of Indian Education website and a counselor is needed at the majority of the schools throughout the United States. Today, our children need guidance and support in order to pursue their education, but guidance and support to really draw upon their strength and identity as Indigenous people; within our identities lies great power, resilience and strength.

6. What do you think are the most important ways that Red Cloud prepared you for college and beyond?

Red Cloud really made me cognizant of the importance and vitality of good support. The faculty always challenged the students, yet they are always behind them every step of the way. You need that support as you pursue post-secondary education. It is difficult, but academically, Red Cloud did an amazing job preparing me for the style and amount of work one experiences as a freshman. Red Cloud staff advocate for scholarship opportunities early on in our academic career and give us all the necessary resources to pursue funding for college. Through partnerships with universities, campus visits were important. Being able to communicate with collegiate faculty and students helped orient our minds towards making our dreams of college a reality. I will always be an advocate for prayer and spirituality, which Red Cloud definitely gave the students. Prayer and connection to my Lakota spirituality is what helped me succeed and excel in college, I will always advocate for connection to the Creator, as he can help you through anything.

7. What "words of wisdom" would you pass on to this generation of RCHS students coming up nowadays?

If you dream about it, you can do it. College is not the only avenue after high school. There are many fields available for students. Pursue what you want for yourself, whether that is culinary school, vocational school, employment…education will always be there. Yet, no matter what path you choose, remember who you are as a Lakota person and the power that is found within your identity. Remember to be in constant connection with your family and community. Your family and community will always stand behind you for support. Utilize that. Remember the sacrifice of your ancestors and all the struggles that they overcame so that you could attain an amazing education that Red Cloud offers you. It is the best school on our reservation. Set your goals early on so you know what you need to do in order to reach them. A college degree is difficult to attain, but is definitely possible. It gets very overwhelming at times, but don’t give up. And lastly, pray. “Wocekiye ecela”; prayer is the only way. No matter which spiritual background you come from, traditional or Christian, remember that balance begins with the spiritual. Dream big mitakuyepi [my relatives], pursue a dream that will benefit your people, your family and yourself.