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Tribe honors its graduates

SUQUAMISH — Former Suquamish Tribal Chairman Charles Russell Lawrence came home one day in 1962 with a fist of rolled-up papers and tears streaming down this face. His wife asked what was wrong.

These scrolls are scholarships for tribal members, he said, but no one wants them.

Promise me, Lawrence told his wife, that some day, our kids will go to college.

If he were alive today, he surely would have had tears of happiness, having seen his daughter, Barbara Lawrence, graduate from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute this spring with a masters degree in business administration in sustainable business.

Barbara Lawrence shared this story with 17 Suquamish Tribal high school graduates and their families Wednesday night as one of the speakers during the tribe’s annual graduation dinner at Kiana Lodge.

She emphasized the importance of following through with goals and dreams and to not be afraid to ask for help. Lawrence received strong support from her family and friends who pushed her to continue when she wanted to stop, she explained. Financial assistance came disguised in various ways — anonymously, from well-known sources and sometimes, in the form of $5 or $10 bills that were slipped to her.

There are also very few Suquamish Tribal members who have their masters degrees, she said, naming about six that she knew of in the audience — a number she wants to see increase. Nationwide, .07 percent of all 500,000 Native Americans in the United States have masters degrees, Lawrence said, noting she wants to see that change as well.

“I want that not to be true,” Lawrence said. “I want you to make a liar out of me. You all can get a masters degree.”

Leonard Forsman, newly elected tribal chairman and who earned a masters degree in archaeology last year, told the graduates to be careful about the decisions they make in the near future and to remember where they came from.

While the tribe is a sovereign nation and considered a federal government, Forsman said he didn’t see those things Wednesday night in the dining room of Kiana Lodge. Instead, he saw families.

“Strength is in our families,” he said. “A group of families with a common culture.”

Many of the tribe’s elders and ancestors have made sacrifices in the past to allow for the freedom and way of life members have today, he said.

“Listen to your families, listen to your elders,” Forsman suggested.

The Suquamish Tribe’s Director of Education Jerome Jainga said this class had the highest percentage of graduates eligible to graduate on time. He believes the support of the community has helped students achieve this accomplishment, such as the Clearwater Casino requiring students to have a high school degree to work at the gaming facility.

“I think it’s about sitting in front of the community and being honored,” Jainga said. “It’s innate to us.”

The 2005 Suquamish Tribal high school graduates honored, who attended various institutions within the region, are: Shayna Bagley, Michael Cordero, Charles Dryden, Krystal George, Tyler George, Kenneth Haggan, Nicole Holt, Loretta Ives, Joli Lund, Sammy Mabe, “J.R.” Daniel Morsette Jr., Mellisa Pondelick, Noel Purser, Joaquin Santos, Cori Smith, Fawn Smith and Kai Williams.

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