Navajo medicine man gives keynote speech emphasizing continuing education and belief systems

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SAN JUAN COUNTY — The Charter Institute in Farmington graduated its inaugural class on Friday with several dozen students receiving medical certificates at the McGee Park Convention Center.

“For those of you sitting out in the audience dressed in your graduation regalia, what feels like the end is often the beginning,” Charter College Chancellor Jill James said during the ceremony. “Yes, your time with Charter Institute as a student has come to a close. You worked through your obstacles (and) studied hard, even when anything and everything was attempting to pull your attention away. You even managed to get through the number of times your lab partner had to poke you with a needle to practice taking blood or giving injections.”

The Charter Institute is a division of Charter College, a private and independent higher education institute that offers a variety of career training programs in health care, business, veterinary care, information technology and certain trades, according to its website.

James said the college established a campus in Farmington in 2016 after seeing a need in the region for medical training. Fridayʼs ceremony marked the schoolʼs first graduating class.

Farmingtonʼs Charter Institute offers only medical assistant programs. Students can go through a 15-month program to earn an associate degree or 10-month programs to earn either a medical assistant certificate or a medical office administrative assistant certificate, according to Tammy Wilhelm, president of the Farmington campus.

One student, Alfreida Bee, earned an associate degree in applied science, and 68 students graduated with a medical assistant certificate. Another 10 students earned medical office administrative assistant certificates, according to the graduation program.

Several students were honored at the commencement ceremony, including the class valedictorian Raquel Clark, who earned the Presidentʼs Award for a 4.0 cumulative grade point average and perfect attendance.

Joyce Jolly and Kimberly Lovato also were recognized for having perfect attendance.
 
More than one-third of the graduating class — 32 students — earned honors, having a cumulative GPA of 3.7 or higher.

Johnson Harrison Sr., a traditional Navajo medicine man from the Taʼchiiʼnii or Red-Running-Into-The-Water Clan in Chaco Canyon, gave the keynote speech at the graduation, addressing the graduates and their families in a 15-minute address in Diné Bizaad, the Navajo language.

Sarah Harrison, the keynote speakerʼs granddaughter who is part of the Charter Institute faculty, summarized the speech in English for the audience, saying her grandfather said a prayer before encouraging the graduates to keep pursuing education and emphasizing the value of home life.

“He wanted all of our graduates to know that life doesnʼt end here,” Sarah Harrison said after the ceremony, adding, “He also said to continue on with whatever you have at home, whether it's traditional or religious beliefs you have, to continue with that and be able to continue stepping forward.”

The majority of the graduates thanked their families and friends as they accepted their certificates, and some wore traditional dress. Clark, who gave the student address, thanked the schoolʼs faculty and her fellow students, saying, “We started together, and we will finish together.”

“Often, on graduation day, we look outside for heroes, but I see them right here among us,” Clark said. “I have seen, in my months here at Charter College, that we donʼt have to look far for inspiration, and that we each have a potential to make inspiring contributions to each other by being true to our values and committing ourselves to lofty goals …

“I just wanted to say congratulations to my fellow peers,” Clark said, fanning herself as she ended her speech. “And I just wanted to say we did it! Weʼre the class of 2017!"

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com. 

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