Cedar graduation caps, tassels tied with feathers and ribbon skirts peaking beneath black robes were donned by Northwest Indian College graduates at their June 16 commencement ceremony.
Through the rain, wind and sunshine, more than 150 students and hundreds of supporters gathered at the Lummi Nation Stommish Grounds to celebrate their completion of more than 100 degrees and certificates, collectively.
At this year’s ceremony — marking the 40th anniversary of NWIC — the students picked the theme “Reclaiming, Revitalizing and Rooted.”
“Remember what your ancestors demonstrated before you,” said Justin Guillory, the president of Northwest Indian College and a descendent of the Nez Perce Tribe. “These opportunities are for you to reclaim something that was lost or taken away, to revitalize yourself and emerge stronger and healthier, and yet, remain deeply rooted in your cultural identity, fixed in one place, and always being proud of who you are and where you come from.”
Graduates Sandra James of the Makah Tribe and Lummi Nation and Alexé Ortiz, a descendent of the Nez Perce and Salish Kootenai tribes, spoke to their classmates. James, who attended NWIC at the Lummi campus, spoke about Indigenous practices and her belief in sharing them with her own children and future generations.
Matika Wilbur — an award-winning photographer who is Swinomish and Tulalip — imparted wisdom on students and pulled a few laughs during her keynote speech. She discussed her life as a Native photographer and creator of Project 562 — a photography collection highlighting hundreds of Native American sovereign territories throughout the U.S.
“I know all of you will err in the direction of kindness. You will do those things that incline you towards the big questions, and avoid the things that reduce you and make you trivial,” she said. “Your soul is as bright and shining as any that has ever been.”
She encouraged graduates to live by the wisdom of their elders and to approach life with kindness and laughter. She applauded them for choosing “Indigenous intelligence” by attending NWIC and honoring their ancestors.
NWIC also awarded Al Scott Johnny and Violet Hillaire (posthumous) of the Lummi Nation with honorary bachelor’s degrees in Native Leadership Studies.
Carlos Martinez and Gabriela Salazar were honored with outstanding faculty awards.