Marc Dadigan
Victoria Garica, Chiricahua Apache/Round Valley, receives a Pendleton blanket from Native American Student Development staff during the May 18 UC-Berkeley Native graduation ceremony.

UC-Berkeley Native Graduates Celebrate Long Journey to Degrees

Marc Dadigan

Victoria Garica struggled when she first arrived at the University of California, Berkeley, from the small Round Valley reservation some four hours away in Northern California.

As a first-generation low-income student at Berkeley, she often felt the pull of home, felt overwhelmed at times among 30,000 students and at one point faced academic probation. But on May 18, she celebrated overcoming all the obstacles and cultural insensitivity that many Native students face at college campuses, by presenting a spoken word poem to nearly 150 who had gathered for the UC-Berkeley Native American graduation ceremony.

“Attending this university is a slap in the face to every substitute who told me that I couldn’t and that I can’t,” Garica, Chiricahua Apache, said. “This ugly duckling has found her beauty… like a bird free from its cage, I will no longer be contained, and I will keep breaking my chains.”

At the ceremony a total of 20 Native graduates—12 earning their bachelor’s, four earning master’s, two earning doctorates and two earning law degrees—were honored, each receiving a Pendleton blanket and raucous applause for their achievements.

Those who had the opportunity to speak discussed the challenges many Native students face at UC-Berkeley, an institution where the number of Native students is dwarfed by the nearly 9,200 Native remains in its museum’s storage facility. This prompts many students to note there are “more dead Indians on campus than alive.”

Many students thanked the tireless work of the Native American Student Development program’s staff for helping them get through their studies, and they said a great deal of support was available at UC-Berkeley to guide them.

In his remarks, Darren Modzelewski, Blackfeet, who earned his law degree, advocated for the return of the remains to their appropriate homes, but also spoke about how the students’ can use their education to fight for social justice and the revitalization of their culture and rights.

“We have changed this place. We have made it better every time we’ve raised our voices in class and rose up as activists, and we have made it better for the people coming up behind us,” he said. “All of the graduates here have shown the compassion, the courage and the strength it takes to thrive in a difficult, unfamiliar place.”

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Pat Lenzi's picture
Pat Lenzi
Submitted by Pat Lenzi on
So proud of these fellow alums! Congratulations to each of you and to your families and tribes!

Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
Wonderful, sons & daughters of the people for a well-deserved accomplishment for all the hard work & sacrifices you all made. It is not by just your hard work alone though, your families & people also sacrificed much to see this dream of us ALL come to pass. Now let's get out there & fight for all we First Nation peoples rights using the very knowledge of the washichu against them using their own laws & courts for the wrongs they have harmed us with. Our ancestors saw the day coming that this all would start to turn around for us. This is why they wanted us to become educated of the white ways, knowledge & laws so we could come back to our people & change what needs changed. At the same time, we must NEVER forget who we are & where we come from, always serving our people wherever we may be needed. We ALL need to get back to our people from time to time if we have to be away working, to renew our energies & keep our focus on what really is important in this walk of life. Our ways, elders, beliefs, music, pow wows, ALL give us the strength & remind us of the MUCH greater picture we are ALL part of. We must never forget to give our Creator thanks for the blessings He grants us & the gifts He loans us to work though those of us so blessed with the Great Spirit's gifts & blessings. Always be thankful & remain humble my friends for ALL that Man Above shares with us.

K. Attocknie's picture
K. Attocknie
Submitted by K. Attocknie on
Thank you for such an inspiring and wonderful story about out native people! This article truly hit home as I have decided to return to school myself and am looking forward to graduating soon. As a Comanche, I will be the first person on my dads side of the family to finish school. I am proud for myself, my son, my family and my people.

bwaikiki's picture
Submitted by bwaikiki on
Congratulations to all. As someone once said, "Success is the best revenge".

Wilfred Denetclaw Ph.D.'s picture
Wilfred Denetcl...
Submitted by Wilfred Denetcl... on
Excellent news story. It catches the essence of the struggles we as American Indians face as college students. Congratulations to the UC Berkeley graduates from this Cal Alumnus from 1991.