GRADUATION JOURNEY (includes graduate list)
Thu, 05/11/2017 - 11:12am admin
Tessa Passes goes from high school dropout to LBHC valedictorian
By Andrew Turck / Big Horn County News
After ascending the stage late Friday morning at Little Big Horn College, school valedictorian Tessa Passes stood before 34 of her fellow students, marking her first graduation ceremony since she finished Head Start.
Leading up to the ceremony, finals week had been the most stressful time of her life, Passes said, combined with the fact that her general feelings on addressing her class were, “Don’t pick me. Don’t pick me.” However, she added, now was as good a time as any to conquer her fear of public speaking.
“Considering some of the low points I’ve had in my life, believe me when I tell you I’ve come a long way,” she said to the audience of students, staff, faculty, friends and families. “There was a time when I felt it was impossible to get my degree. After all, I was a teen mom, a high school dropout.”
Passes left Hardin High School her sophomore year in 2006, unsure of which direction she wanted to take her life. She earned her G.E.D. the following month and attended Montana State University-Billings that fall, but she dropped out again due to a lack of direction.
While searching for her path, she spent time working for the Indian Health Service in Crow Agency, where she witnessed the health care struggles of families and children. Through her time at the Crow-Northern Cheyenne Hospital, Passes’ career plan began to germinate.
Keynote speaker Dr. Lynelle Noisy Hawk, clinical director for the hospital, was inspired to become a physician similarly by her “Native experiences” growing up in the health service system. As the primary care provider on the Crow Reservation, the hospital is known to struggle with issues regarding funding, community health and the bureaucratic hurdles connected to IHS.
“Today, educated Natives are returning to their homelands to improve broken systems, and benefit our people and our tribes,” Noisy Hawk said. “The gratitude I received from patients is proof I have obtained my goal in helping Native people.”
Deciding once again to pursue her education in 2015, Passes initially thought she wanted to be a nurse – based on advice from others – but, in the end, found that, “My heart is with the kids.”
During her speech, Passes addressed the issue of abuse, which she said “faces many of the families in our community” and “takes many forms.”
Recent incidents inspired her to talk about the problem, she said, such as the April 5 death of a 2-year-old child in Hardin by what a medical examiner determined to be abusive physical contact.
To emphasize the need to root out verbal as well physical abuse, she read a poem to the audience entitled “Silently,” which began: “Like a knife, your words cut into me / into my soul, your words rip through my body / I’m bleeding.”
“I want to be an advocate and helper to children who are abused, brutalized, violated,” she said, “and a voice for the children who didn’t make it out alive.”
In an energetic speech told while pacing about the room, Crow Speaker of the House Eric Birdinground said to the graduates, “Your future is yours to build upon.”
“My prayers for each of you are for you to continue on this prestigious road to education,” he continued, before having all the graduates stand up to receive a round of applause, complete with drumming and exclamations in the Crow language. “Your success is not only yours, but for your families, for your tribe and the future generations.”
Following the ceremony, Passes left the stage accompanied by her two daughters.
Her graduation cap’s tassel had been moved from left to right, indicating that she had earned her two degrees – an Associate of Arts in Human Services and the same degree with the Addiction Studies Option.
“I’m thankful that I found Little Big Horn College because it really helped me to know where I want to go in life, what I want to do,” Passes said. “I really didn’t know what I wanted to do until I came here.”
Starting May 22, Passes will be attending the University of Montana, where – in three semesters – she hopes to earn bachelor’s degrees in psychology and social work.
Once she is “armed” with her education, Passes intends to return to the local area, become a clinical social worker and help families suffering from addictions, poverty and abuse.
Little Big Horn College’s 2017 graduates:
Associate of Arts in Crow Studies: Native American Studies Option
Tahnya A. LaForge (1st degree)
Associate of Arts in Education: Elementary Education Option
Tahnya A. LaForge (2nd degree) and Winters D. Plain Bull
Associate of Arts in Human Services
Tessa L. Passes – 4.0 GPA (1st degree) and JanTeesa A. Fisher
Associate of Arts in Human Services: Addiction Studies Option
Tessa L. Passes – 4.0 GPA (2nd degree), George B. Reed and Jeffrey D. Rides the Bear
Associate of Applied Science in Information Systems: Information Technology Option
Wayne G. Not Afraid Jr. (Fall 2016)
Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts
Kallie M. Black Eagle (Summer 2016), Jordan M. Hugs, Louis G. Jefferson, Stephen Not Afraid Jr. – 3.5-plus GPA and Kody M. Shane
Associate of Science in Science: Community Health Option
Char Brandi Morgan Hugs and Jarika B. Bear Below
Associate of Science in Science: Biology Option
Marshand A. Vasquez
Associate of Science in Science: Life Science/Pre-Nursing Option
Sarah Boggess (Fall 2014) – 3.5-plus GPA, Shannon S. Dreamer, Kasey V. Foote and Rachal R. Male Bear Stone – 3.5-plus GPA
Associate of Arts in Directed Individualized Studies: Business Administration
Tracy A. Lewis
Associate of Arts in Directed Individualized Studies: Education
Colleen J. Black Eagle
Associate of Arts in Directed Individualized Studies: Pre-Medical
Vanessa R. Old Coyote and Delvin J. Walks
One Year Certificate Program: Crow Studies-Science
Tillie E. Stewart
One Year Certificate Program: Highway Construction Program
Jacob D. Bishop, Tammy D. Brien, Harold J. Hill Jr., Larry L. Hogan, Byron A. Real Bird, Polly Y. Real Bird and Gladys F. Red Wolf
One Year Certificate Program: Welding & Fabrication Program
Larin J. Backbone, Doris W. Bulltail, Christopher L. Dillon and Holland J. Red Star – 3.5-plus GPA