FARMINGTON — This year's Leadership San Juan Class met Friday for their fourth monthly session at Navajo Preparatory School on Apache.

The theme was "Multicultural Day," and the 29 class members were given presentations on subjects such as the pre-history of San Juan County, Native American poetry and Latino History.

During the afternoon, a panel of four Navajo Prep students, seniors Jasmine Jishie, Jefferson Joe Jr., Shane Benally and Delta Higdon - discussed how culture has influenced their lives.

Moderator Elaine Benally introduced the students and stressed the importance of taking time to listen to the wisdom young people can provide. She explained that Navajo Prep graduates are attending colleges all over the nation and succeeding both on and off the Reservation.

"Native American people are now in fear of losing their language, cultural traditions and their youth," Benally said. "These young people are here to reassure us that this won't happen."

All of the young panelists discussed their plans to attend college and obtain degrees in areas such as law, education, business and psychology. They also stated their intentions to bring their education and skills back to the Reservation, to serve their people and help future generations.

"I want to become a lawyer and open up a firm on the Reservation, so my people won't have to go all the way to the city (for legal help)," said Joe.

Shane Benally said he plans to become an athletic trainer and coach on the Reservation after attending college.

"The Dine people have a lot of talent in sports such as running and basketball, and I plan to come back and help them out with that," he said.

The students were asked what advice they would give for leaders, both on and off the Reservation.

"They need to be able to reach out to the youth," Higdon said. "We here at Navajo Prep try to go out and help younger kids, and teach them to go after their dreams. That's what all leaders need to do."

The students talked about the importance of preserving the Navajo culture, and praised the Navajo Prep curriculum for integrating Navajo culture and traditions.

"In our culture, we have stories, we have songs," Jishie said. "It's the little things that count. We're so connected with nature, harmony and peace, so culture has had such a big impact on me."

Joe said that preserving Navajo culture will fall largely on the backs of his generation and generations to come.

"Coming here to Navajo Prep and learning about my culture has offered me clarity," he said. "I finally know what I want to do. I want to stop our culture from fading away, and I want to protect my people any way I can."

This year's Leadership class members will attend three additional day-long sessions and will complete three community-improvement projects before graduating from the program in May.

The program is geared toward educating current and future community leaders about pertinent issues and systems within the county.

Applications for next year's Leadership San Juan class are being accepted. For more information, visit the college's website at www.sanjuancollege.edu, or call 505-566-3461.