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Fife Native American Education Program honors grads

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The Fife High School cafeteria was filled with smiles, laughter and the invigorating sounds of Native drumming on the evening of May 25, as family, friends and school personnel gathered for the Fife Native American Education Program’s graduation event. Hosted by the district’s Native Education Coordinator Martha Sherman, the event was dedicated to nine Native American students who were being honored for their involvement in Fife’s Indian Education program and for achieving a landmark in their young lives – high school graduation.

The Class of 2016 Native Education graduates are:

Natalie Bean (Puyallup), Cameron Bunger (Cree), Matthew Campbell (Alaska Native), Sierra Campbell (Crow), Cody Hart-Stone (Chippewa), Caitlin Henderson (Eastern Band Cherokee), Grace Henry (Blackfoot), Sieona Squally (Puyallup) and Nicholas VanBrocklin (Uchulashat).

The students also designated a special teacher who inspired and made an impact on them on their paths to knowledge: art teacher Katy Bauer (Caitlin Henderson); math teacher Carol Bradley (Cameron Bunger); science teacher Dennis Burchett (Cody Hart-Stone); swim/special education teacher Jo Bushnell (Sierra Campbell); special education teacher Tracy Fox (Nicholas VanBrocklin); English teacher Sue Grab (Matthew Campbell); math/science teacher Jeff Howell (Natalie Bean); physical education teacher Shannon MacKinnon (Sieona Squally); and career and technical education teacher Heidi Woodruff (Grace Henry). Each student stepped forth to say good things about how their teacher impacted them and to present them with a gift.

Educator and counselor Arlie Neskahi (Diné Nation), also a member of the White Eagle Singers drumming group that was there that evening, addressed the youth.

“Look at all these people who are here tonight. If it weren’t for you, none of them would be here tonight,” he told the graduates. “We’re here to honor you, recognize your accomplishments and also to say thank you for your work, dedication and sacrifice. We’re grateful to you, especially as young people. In the world we live in today there’s a lot of chaos, difficulty, confusion and worry and even in the midst of all that you are growing, experiencing, achieving and that’s part of the wonderful nature of us as human people and as Native people. We always endeavor to do our best even though there are hard times all around.”

Puyallup Council Member David Bean was the invited guest speaker, and he began his talk by naming some Fife High graduates who have gone on to do great things.

“Most notable is our present (Puyallup) Chairman Bill Sterud. He went on to University of Washington and has been council member with the Puyallup Tribe for nearly 40 years; his daughter Danica Miller, now a professor at UWT; Frank Wright Jr., former chairman of the Puyallup Tribe and current Emerald Queen Casino manager.”

He named non-Natives as well: Mark Emmert, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA); Frank Spear, who has been recognized by various academies for contributions to aesthetic and restorative dentistry; an d Fred Swenson who went to Notre Dame and played for the Buffalo Bills.

“Fife High School has a rich tradition of producing quality members of this community and of the United States so you graduates tonight stand among some great people,” David Bean said.

He recalled his own influential teacher, Chuck Bingham, and the lesson he learned from this former Marine.

“Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire first. This means it’s not just going to happen – we have to make it happen,” David Bean shared, adding that teacher Bingham also helped David stop using the word “can’t.”

“Eliminating the word ‘can’t’ from my vocabulary meant removing obstacles and barriers. If there is an obstacle in my way, I will go over it, under it, around it and if necessary I will go through it. That’s what I learned from my teacher and I encourage each and every one of you to take those lessons from those teachers that inspired you and use those lessons to carry you forward and you may one day be sitting in a position where you’re talking with the President of the United States, with members of Congress and with folks who make the laws of the land here,” David Bean said, himself a frequent visitor to Washington, D.C. on tribal business.

The ceremony closed with each graduate onstage receiving gifts and well-wishes.

Martha Sherman gave a shout-out to the Puyallup Tribe for all its help in making this graduation event, and other Native American Education events for Fife students, possible.

“A special thank you to the Puyallup Tribe charity fund,” she said. “Without that donation, a lot of these events would not happen.”