KuC grads ready to lead
When Heidi Marie Geerdts took the stage at the University of Fairbanks Kuskokwim Campus, she had something to say.
"I want to broadcast this little secret: It can be done," she said. "So never give up."
Geerdts said she's done her life a little backwards. She joined the Air Force right after high school and then she got married, had kids and started her own business. After all of this, she decided she needed to set an example to her children. She decided to go back to school.
"I wanted them to understand that they can achieve their dreams as long as they work hard," she said. "I knew it was not going to be easy but I knew it was not going to be impossible."
Geerdts talked about how she would never have been standing at the podium, receiving a degree, if it wasn't for the people in her life, especially her mom.
"When you want something, all the universe conspires to help you. ... The truth is, had it not been for others who helped us pave the way for us, we would not be here today," she said.
At the KuC graduation, 61 students received their community health certificates, associate degrees, baccalaureate degrees and master's degrees.
The keynote speaker, Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation Behavioral Health Director Raymond Daw, who is Navajo Indian, said that he was first brought to Bethel because of the traditional values, the prominence of the Yup'ik language, the subsistence lifestyle and the familial relationships that people have with one another.
"I believe in the bottom of my heart that your people, who are graduating today, that we're beginning the step of that process of regaining those values in a real, strong way and reintegrating them in our lives and the lives here in Bethel," he said. "This is what will keep our people alive, well into many centuries in the future."
Other speakers included Jason Kalirmiu Tatall'aq Smith, who was given a baccalaureate degree in rural development; Julia Judi Nacuq Kanuk, who was given a master's degree in community counseling; and Robert Yuukaq Nick, who was given an honorary doctorate of laws.
"I've been given a second chance at life and now I want to earn it," Smith said, explaining how he wanted to join the work force.
Nick said he was very humbled and honored to receive his honorary doctorate. He urged the graduating students in the room to go forward in life and to help their people in their chosen fields, be it health, environmental, economic or something else.
"Always remember where you come from. Your culture, your families and your homeland," Nick said. "I wanted to congratulate this class and urge you to embark on a journey to lead your people to the next century."