Red Cloud Senior Finds Her Voice and Follows Her Dreams





Taylahni Jackson’s first year as a high school student at Red Cloud wasn’t easy. As a ninth grader, she lived in a community more than an hour away from main campus, forcing her to get up at 4:30 am to get to the bus on time. Her family moved often, making it difficult to feel settled. And she was painfully shy—terrified to speak up during class.

But in the years that followed, thanks to what she refers to as Red Cloud’s “strong support system,” Taylahni flourished. She became an academic star, and also a leader on student council, captain of the Knowledge Bowl team, an accomplished Lakota language speaker, and aspiring engineer. And this week, surrounded by family and loved ones, she celebrated her graduation from Red Cloud as one of the top students in her class—as well as her acceptance into one of the nation’s best universities.

“I got into New York University, and earned a $50,000 scholarship to the Tandon School of Engineering!” she said. “At Red Cloud, our teachers instill in us the idea that we can go to college no matter what—that we can do anything we set our minds to. And it makes an amazing difference.”





At Red Cloud, Taylahni found a second home—and the confidence to share her voice. Her teachers and counselors, she says, made all the difference. She met with counselors regularly to help her stay on track academically. And her teachers—including her favorite science teacher, Katie Montez—helped her to build her confidence, in the classroom and out.

“Freshman year I was really, really shy—I was terrified of speaking up in class,” she remembered. “But Katie always supported us in expressing our own perspectives. She had an activity where we’d stand somewhere in the classroom based on our opinion on a certain topic, and I found I was often standing alone. At first that scared me—but Katie encouraged me and helped me understand it’s okay to stand up for what I believe in.”

That confidence led Taylahni to become a leader on campus and in the Red Cloud community. She has served on Student Council since her sophomore year, helping build community among her classmates and fundraising for student projects and trips. She was the only junior on the Knowledge Bowl team and, taking the reins as the captain during her senior year, led them to place at the Lakota Nation Invitational competition. She also took part in a peer mentoring program, learning how to support younger high school students experiencing some of the same challenges she did.

And in honor of her grandmother, a renowned Lakota teacher and knowledge holder, she has competed in—and won—the Lakota language competitions each year at Oglala Lakota College.

“My grandmother is a fluent speaker, and I grew up with her telling me stories and teaching me Lakota—and that gave me a desire to learn it myself,” she explained. “In the speech competitions, I’ve always tried to do more than just introduce myself in the language. I learn a whole story in Lakota that I’m able to tell. I want to continue to learn more of the language, and maybe even other indigenous languages, in the future.”

With graduation celebrations just behind her, Taylahni is now looking to that future—and all of the possibilities ahead. She’ll begin an accelerated program at New York University in the spring, and plans to major in chemistry and biomolecular engineering. She wants to build her career off the reservation to start. But ultimately, she has every intention of coming home to Pine Ridge to make an impact in her own community.

“I think I want to be a teacher here at Red Cloud, eventually,” she said. “Our teachers, even the ones not from here, are really invested in their students’ future lives. They work hard to support students who are going through major challenges. I’ve seen and experienced firsthand how they help their students succeed—and I want to do something like that.”





Photos © Red Cloud Indian School



Share This Story


Want to receive more stories like this?




New Video: Turning Dreams into Reality, what Red Cloud students dream of

Beating the Toughest Odds, New Graduate on the Pine Ridge Reservation Accepted to Seven Ivy League Colleges

Growing a Community of Lakota Language Learners

For Seniors, A Chance to Serve the Community