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2024 IAIA Commencement—A Day of Honor and Celebration

Jun 4, 2024

2024 IAIA Commencement

“It means the world to me to be a tribal college graduate, I would not trade my time at….IAIA for any Ivy League institution,” declared keynote speaker Dyani White Hawk (Sičáŋǧu Lakota) ’08 as a room of nearly 600 attendees erupted into applause at the Institute of American Indian Arts’ (IAIA) 2024 Commencement Ceremony. Held on Saturday, May 11, in the IAIA Performing Arts and Fitness Center gym, excitement and pride surged throughout campus from IAIA community members and the families who traveled from afar to join the festivities. The occasion saw 80 graduates honored—half with a Master of Fine Arts, and half with undergraduate degrees or certificates. Of the 40 master’s degrees, there were 24 MFA in Creative Writing (MFACW) degrees, 8 MFA in Studio Arts (MFASA) degrees, and 8 MFA in Cultural Administration (MFACA) degrees. This year’s celebration marks a first for MFACA, as the two-year program graduated its inaugural cohort—a milestone many years in the making. Additionally, the undergraduate degrees included 29 bachelor’s degrees, 4 associate’s degrees, and 8 certificates.

The annual IAIA Commencement Ceremony is often celebrated for its unique display of personal expression, which is deeply connected to cultural heritage and the IAIA Community spirit. This year was no different, as graduates—led by rainbow dancers, dignitaries, and faculty members—shuffled into the Tribal Nations flag-lined room for the processional in a colorful presentation of fashion, regalia, and culturally significant adornments. From beautifully beaded grad caps bearing eagle feathers to Leanne Campbell’s (Coeur d’Alene, Colville, and Nez Perce) ’13 and ’24 custom handmade Columbia Plateau Basket Hat featuring the IAIA thunderbird logo, students spared no creative or artistic detail. IAIA Provost Felipe Colón (Laguna Pueblo) opened with the land acknowledgement followed by the introduction of the invocation speaker, Paul Quintana (Cochiti Pueblo), who provided the opening prayer, and the Thunder Boyz Drum Group who performed the flag song. 2024–2025 Faculty and Staff of the Year honorees Angelica Gallegos (Chicana) ’15 and Delight Talawepi (Hopi) ’23 served as the Commencement Marshalls, while 2023–2024 Co-Faculty of the Year recipients Dr. Thomas Antonio and Jim Rivera (Pascua Yaqui) ’96 contributed as the Masters of Ceremonies.

In his welcome address, IAIA President Dr. Robert Martin (Cherokee Nation) congratulated the class of 2024 for their commitment, passion, sacrifice, and preparation. “The commencement ceremony marks not the end, but the beginning of the next chapter of your life’s journey,” he noted, “and we look forward to following your careers as you make an impact on your community and the world.” Representing 22 states, with the top states being New Mexico, California, Alaska, Oklahoma, and Arizona, Dr. Martin provided the class profile. 73% of students represent Indigenous communities, while the other 27% represent a rich diversity of cultures, and the student age ranges from 17–65 with an average age of 33. He praised the Master of Fine Arts programs, who each held individual Hooding Ceremonies earlier in the week, on their achievements. This included MFACW for completing their graduate readings, MFASA on the successful opening of the thesis exhibition, We’ve Been Gathering Places, currently on view at form & concept through June 15, and MFACA on their landmark accomplishment as the first graduating cohort.

Following Dr. Martin’s remarks, IAIA Board of Trustees Vice Chair Loren Kieve (Cherokee Nation) stepped up to the podium and held up a copy of the morning’s Santa Fe New Mexican, with the phrase “changed my whole orbit” displayed in bold type across the front page. The article highlights graduating students Santana Shorty (Navajo Nation) ’24 and Jaime Herrell (Cherokee Nation and European) ’24, and how their time at IAIA has transformed their lives. “They are just two representatives of the innumerable number of graduates who have had their lives changed [by IAIA],” he beamed as the pair stood up radiating with pride and emotion. “And that is why we are here—we are here to educate, to change lives, to inspire, and to have our students and our graduates inspire others.” Kieve went on to introduce the IAIA Trustees in attendance and other honorable dignitaries.

After the completion of the introductions, Dr. Martin and Kieve presented multidisciplinary visual artist and IAIA Alum Dyani White Hawk with an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities degree and gifted her the IAIA Pendelton® Blanket, featuring Material Break by Bennie Buffalo (Southern Cheyenne) ’67. In her commencement address, White Hawk told the story of the many twists and turns she’s taken through life as she navigated her way through academia and emphasized the importance of remaining on your own path and not comparing yourself to others. “Should you ever doubt your timeline, think that you’re too far behind, that you’re not worthy because you’re not a 4.0 student, please remember that your journey is your own and cannot and should not mirror anyone else’s,” she explained. “The life challenges and obstacles you face can offer the lessons necessary for your growth.” She also heavily stressed the value of leaning into community and life experience for guidance and support and reiterated the extraordinary significance of receiving an education based on, and tailored to, the Indigenous perspective.

Your experiences as tribal college graduates, as graduates from the only intertribal arts college in the nation, are extremely valuable. When that doubt creeps in, if you find yourself facing instances of imposter syndrome or doubting your intelligence, worth, or belonging, stand strong knowing that your unique life experiences as an Indigenous person are profoundly needed in the field and in our world today. Your intelligence has been nurtured through an Indigenous education model. Your existence is rooted in value and knowledge systems based on coexistence models. What you can offer to the field through your varied and individual experiences as people connected to community and tribal relational systems, naturally pushes back against the hierarchal systems that exist within the field. The arts are a reflection of our society—they reflect the beauty and the chaos, the dysfunction and the healing. As Indigenous thought leaders connected to a lineage of people with generations of knowledge of land and world views based on relationality, what you will bring to the critical thinking pools in our field is wildly important. Please strive to remember this when you find your strength wavering. We need all your voices. Humanity, all of life, and our shared mother, the land, depend on our collective energy focused on moving towards healthier futures. This future can only be built through collective consciousness in which we recognize and make decisions based on our relatedness.

You are artists, writers, academics, filmmakers, musicians, museum professionals, and beyond. Do not underestimate your ability to affect positive change in our world. Through these fields, we are blessed with the ability to speak to so many. Together we can affect change, encourage critical thinking, influence cross-cultural nurturing and relationship building, and collectively influence human growth.

—Excerpt from Dyani White Hawk’s 2024 IAIA Commencement speech

Dr. Dyani White Hawk (Sičáŋǧu Lakota) ’08

Commencement Keynote Speaker

Students eagerly took to the stage for the presentation of degree candidates, followed by the conferring of degrees, as graduates moved their tassels to the left. Class Valedictorian DeMar C. Galloway (Shoshone-Bannock Tribes) ’23 then shared words of encouragement for the class of 2024.

Once again, we are armed and ready for battle. Each of us now carries a medium as our weapon. Guided by the prayers of those before us, we now trek a path not of war, but of creativity to protect and provide for our people, cultures, and most importantly our futures. Having fought bravely in battles against assignments, deadlines, and even ourselves, may we now return to our homelands victorious. So let this victory be heard. Let us be heard. Let your voices, your stories, and your songs carry through these very walls, and through the walls of your homes. Let the ideas that we have forbearingly planted here spread and blossom throughout our communities. Share the knowledge we have so courageously cultivated here with our generation, and those that have yet to come, so that once again we may become warriors.

—Excerpt from DeMar C. Galloway’s 2024 IAIA valedictorian speech

DeMar C. Galloway (Shoshone-Bannock Tribes) ’23

2024 Valedictorian

The ceremony concluded with a drum song, and graduates greeted friends and family before heading to Café Bon Appétit for lunch. To close the celebratory day, IAIA hosted the 2024 “Honoring Our Graduates” IAIA Spring Powwow. Grand entry recognized the day’s festivities as several graduates lined up and were honored with song, greetings, and congratulatory messages.