Promises to return: Chief Manuelito Scholarship awarded to 133-plus students
More than 133 Diné students were honored at a virtual awards ceremony held for the Chief Manuelito Scholarship on Friday, Nov. 26.
Patricia Gonnie, interim superintendent of schools with the Department of Diné Education, praised the students for being awarded the Navajo Nation’s highest education honor and for persevering through the worldwide pandemic.
“The COVD-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges to education,” Gonnie said. “This year’s scholars should be commended for adapting to new ways of learning and continuing to achieve.”
Gonnie also encouraged students to hold onto their traditional and cultural teachings throughout their schooling and to keep the values of their ancestors in mind.
“As the leader of Department of Diné Education, I encourage you to maintain your language and cultural values as you embark on your college career,” Gonnie said. “These should remain a central part of your life, keep the spiritual values of your ancestors and keep their spirit of perseverance.”
The scholarship was named after a Navajo leader, Chief Manuelito, who continuously pushed for education of Diné and advocated for the people to educate themselves.
Winnie Jumbo, a former Miss Navajo Nation, urged Diné to follow Chief Manuelito’s vision when receiving an education and gave examples of how his legacy is followed.
“You should always be willing to learn, you should always be willing to engage in learning,” she said. “Whether it’s in a setting of formal education, whether it’s at home, whether it is outside your comfort zone. You should always take time to learn something new daily.”
She also reinforced Gonnie’s belief to maintain Diné Bizaad and told Navajo people to speak it and learn it as much as possible. She also said advanced speakers should encourage and support other speakers.
President Jonathan Nez praised the scholars for enduring the pandemic and attending school in its midst.
“I am certain that all of you have been impacted (by COVID-19) in one way or another,” Nez said. “The toll that it has taken on you and your loved ones physically, mentally, and spiritually cannot be measured but all of you should be proud that you remain strong and resilient to get where you are today.”
Plans to return
Students who became Chief Manuelito Scholars include Jonah Holiday, Carla Nez, Todd Jalen Lowsayatee Jr. and Noelle Bagola.
Holiday, from Tuba City, is Tódích’íi’nii, born for ‘Áshįįhí. He graduated from Page High and is attending Arizona State University. He is with the Barrett Honors College at ASU.
He plans to stay at ASU until he receives his bachelor’s degree in medical studies.
“It’s (scholarship) definitely going to help me because I do want to become a pediatrician and work back on the reservation when I get a doctoral degree,” Holiday said.
Carla Nez, from Kayenta, is Yé’ii Dine’é Táchii’nii (Bitáá’chii’nii), born for Ta’neeszahnii. She graduated from Monument Valley High and is attending Stanford University.
She plans to major in human biology and is leaning toward the pre-med field. However, she is still open to other possibilities.
She said the scholarship is helping her with tuition at Stanford.
“It’s (scholarship) helping me by paying my tuition that I needed, that my grants and school scholarships don’t cover,” she said.
Lowsayatee, from Thoreau, New Mexico, is Dził Tł’ahnii, born for Naasht’ézhí Dine’é.
He graduated from Thoreau High and is attending Fort Lewis College. His major is marketing. He hopes to become a marketing manager.
He said the scholarship has helped him out a lot and pays for most of his room and board.
“I never knew how expensive school can be until I received the actual billing statement and seeing all the charges that the scholarship, itself, absorbs and how much it’s paid for everything,” he said.
“Just seeing the numbers on paper and imagining what it’d be like if I didn’t get the scholarship,” he said, “it’s really expensive.”
Bagola, from Farmington, holds the same opinion as her peers and said the scholarship has helped to continue her education. She is Tł’ógi, born for Naałání Dine’é.
She graduated from Piedra Vista High and is attending Cornell University. She is studying biomedical engineering.
Once she graduates, she plans to go to medical school or work in the biomedical industry to develop medicine.
She said the scholarship has helped her by giving her the opportunity to give back to her community through her education.
Bagola believes the scholarship is important to Diné students and reinforces the fact that culture must stay in the lives of students while in school.
“I think the scholarship is important for Navajo students because it helps keep us motivated to do well in our academics while staying rooted in our culture,” Bagola said.