Marissa Mendoza

Highland resident Marissa Mendoza was one of approximately 100 Native Americans that celebrated their graduation, at the National Orange Show, earlier this month.

With a huge banner that read, “Congratulations Graduates,” the Renaissance Room, at the National Orange Show, was the venue to celebrate and recognize the achievements of approximately 100 Native American students, from around the Inland Empire, during the 8th annual Native student recognition dinner on May 9.

The honored students came from the Claremont Graduate School, Noli Indian School, San Bernardino City Unified School District, Banning Unified School District, Cal State San Bernardino, the University of Redlands, and the University of California - Riverside.

The program was hosted by the Riverside and San Bernardino County Indian Health, Incorporated, and included keynote speakers Keely Marquez and Claudette C. White, Chief Judge for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.

Before the speakers took the stage, the attendees were treated to bird singers, a traditional hoop dance and the Bearspring Dance Group.

The students and their families seemed entranced with the performances of the dancers, singers and traditional drum circle performers.

Between the performances, some of the dancers shared their love for their Native American culture to the newly graduating students.

One dancer said, “We have to learn about our culture. We must learn about our life. We don’t get a certificate. We have to learn about our elders and their traditions.”

“A light was lit,” said seven-time World Hoop Champion Terry Goedel, referring to his love of hoop dancing and his Native American Culture. “It has never gone out.”

He told the graduates, “Wherever you go, you represent me. Be proud of who you are.”

The evening’s mood was happy, energetic yet contemplative.

Marquez spoke of her journey to college.

Her effervescent speech encouraged the students to persevere and stay the course.

White delivered a compelling story, depicting a child, from a broken home, that achieved her dream. That child was she.

While White’s speech provided a moment of reflection, her message was clear: Follow your dream, and do not deviate from that which you desire.

The students were then called onto the stage, where they were wrapped in a traditional blanket by their parents or loved ones.

After dinner, the students went to a photo area, where they took formal and candid portraits, by themselves, or with their family and friends.

“Tonight was an inspiring night,” said Highland resident and recent graduate Marissa Mendoza. “It was motivational.

“It was good for the kids to hear all of the motivational speakers. They pushed me to continue to keep going to school.”

“It really touched me when the judge said that I was going to be the next generation of Native Americans. I never thought that I would see myself in that way.”

Mendoza wants to study law, and desires to do something for the tribal court system and the Native American community.

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