Mostly strangers, the would-be college students began the first Summer University Program at Crazy Horse Memorial in June with simple hopes of earning course credits and paychecks from seasonal jobs.
In collecting their completion certificates on Friday, Aug. 13, several said they had attained those goals and much more over 10 weeks.
Lynette Francis of Fairbanks, AK, and Santana Fuentes of Eagle Butte, garnered inner strength.
Dylan Tymes of Pine Ridge, and Jordan June of Farmington, NM, discovered "the big man upstairs" could help their fishing and writing.
David Estes of Lower Brule, and Carly Randall of Kyle, gained a second family.
John Little Bald Eagle of Rosebud, found a purpose.
In the process, they were among 18 students making history by finishing the first University of South Dakota courses at the Crazy Horse University Student Living and Learning Center.
The unique academic partnership – a public school working with a privately funded nonprofit organization – passed its inaugural test, said program emcee Jack Marsh of Sioux Falls. He is the president and chief operating officer of the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute and recent winner of the international fraternity Pi Lamda Phi's lifetime achievement award for fighting prejudice.
"In the end, lives were enriched, meaningful relationships were born, and men and women from different cultures, different age groups, different backgrounds and different experiences became an extended family."
USD began the classes on June 7 for the nonprofit Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, drawing students from Alaska, the Dakotas, New Mexico and Oklahoma.
"You came together to form a talented, diverse and powerful inaugural class," USD President James Abbott said in congratulating the group at the completion ceremony.
"You could have spent your summer doing other things. Many kids did. You chose to spend time making an investment in yourself. You changed yourselves and you changed the people around you."
Santana Fuentes, an 18-year-old Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribal member, said she remembered being shy and uncertain in coming to Crazy Horse. Over the summer, she acquired the confidence to speak to the dormitory's designer and construction superintendent, collecting reinforcement for her decision to become an architect.
Murray, a 37-year-old Choctaw-Chickasaw from Oklahoma, taught English, drove student shuttles and led recreational outings, including fishing trips to nearby Custer State Park. He lived on the center's second floor, earning the "big man upstairs" nickname.
He said the students' achievements fulfilled Korczak's dream for the Indian University of North America at Crazy Horse. Murray said the first class also expanded the mountain carving's story in stone and the quotation of the legendary Lakota leader, shown pointing to his peoples' ancestral lands "where my dead lie buried."
"Crazy Horse is now going to say, 'My lands are where my children go to school, where they become doctors and lawyers and teachers and business men and women,' " Murray said.
He added that these students will help many non-Indian people to change their views of Native Americans.
"You are more than beads and feathers and braids. You are the future, and brothers and sisters, the future is beautiful."
Sioux Falls business-philanthropist T. Denny Sanford gave the $2.5 million Living and Learning Center complex. The educational program's costs will be paid from revenues generated by the $5 million open endowment that retired Huron bankers Donna "Muffy" and Paul Christen established with the South Dakota Community Foundation.
The students' families were equal partners in developing the university by entrusting the care and education of their children to the Memorial, said Ruth Ziolkowski, Korczak's wife. "I hope that this has turned out so that they will make you very proud and that you are very happy that it came about," she told the nearly 70 relatives attending the invitation-only ceremony.
Mrs. Ziolkowski said the students showed they have a dream by coming to the Crazy Horse school. "You proved that you have something to do because you stuck with it. Now you need to do it. … remember, there is only one answer when someone asks you, 'did you do the job?' The answer is, 'yes, I did.'"
By virtue of the alphabet, 18-year-old Georgia Baker of McLaughlin, received the first University of South Dakota certificate for completing college-level courses at the Summer University Program at Crazy Horse Memorial. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe member has not declared her study major but plans to attend USD.
Others completing the program and their college plans are:
— Jeremy Blacksmith, 18, Oglala, (Pine Ridge Sioux Tribe), physical therapy or pediatrics at Creighton University, Nebraska.
— Charity Davila 19, Sisseton, (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe), criminal justice; school undecided.
— David Estes 17, Lower Brule, (Rosebud Sioux Tribe), criminal justice at USD, Vermillion.
— Lynnette Francis, 18, Fairbanks, AK (Gwich'in Indian tribe), sociology, psychology and pre-law, Fort Lewis College, Durango, CO.
— Santana Fuentes 18, Eagle Butte, (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate), architecture at North Dakota State University, Fargo.
— Quincy "Q" Greaves, 20, Okreek, (Rosebud Sioux Tribe), accounting at Sinte Gleska University, Mission.
— McKenzie Jensen, 19, Crooks, medical transcriptionist; school undecided.
— Jordan June, 19, Farmington, NM (Navajo Tribe), creative writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, NM.
— Kristen Keeler, 18, from Rosebud and Marty, (Yankton Sioux Tribe), business at South Dakota State University, Brookings.
— John Little Bald Eagle, 18, Rosebud, (Sicangu and Cheyenne heritage), veterinary science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins.
— Carly Randall, 18, Kyle, (Oglala Sioux Tribe), forensic science at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.
— Autumn Sanderson, 18, Conde, psychology, Black Hills State University, Spearfish.
— Dylan Tymes, 18, Pine Ridge, (Oglala Sioux Tribe member; his grandmother Theresa Two Bulls is the current tribal president), journalism at USD.
— Jasmine Wallette, 18, Dunseith, ND (Turtle Mountain Chippewa), photojournalism at SDSU.
— Josalyn Wallette, 18, Dunseith, ND, (Turtle Mountain Chippewa), major undecided at SDSU.
— Erica Wergin, 18, living at Vermillion but originally from Stillwater, OK; graphic arts at USD.
— Holly Yellow Bear, 18, Rockyford, (Oglala Sioux Tribe member), veterinary technician, National American University, Rapid City.