Oglala Lakota College celebrates 44th annual graduation ceremony

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On Sunday students celebrated a major milestone on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Black Hills FOX Reporter Katrina Lim takes us to Oglala Lakota College's graduation ceremony.

Bernadette Winters-Denny is one of 143 graduates who received her bachelor's degree at the 44th annual graduation ceremony of Oglala Lakota College.

She was nervous and excited for the big day.

Graduate Bernadette Winters-Denny says, "It feels like a dream because it's kind of been one of my goals and my dreams for a long time to finish my degree and I'm finally here so today is like a big reality check for me."

Winters-Denny says it took her years to earn her business administration degree, and part of the reason was taking care of her husband.

Graduate Bernadette Winters-Denny says, "He got in a really bad tragic auto mechanic accident. They had to fly him to Greeley, Colorado and he was there for almost a month. That was really devastating. It was really tough because I didn't think I would be able to finish my degree."

According to a study from the National Center for Education Statistics, 17 million undergraduate students were enrolled in fall 2015.

Of that 17 million, 132,000 were American Indian.

Although the number of Native Americans receiving college degrees has increased over the last decade, College President Thomas Shortbull says many of his students had to overcome obstacles like alcoholism and homelessness in order to get to where they are today.

Oglala Lakota College President Thomas Shortbull says, "We have students who have drug problems and they want to quit and they decide to quit then they come take classes with us. There's also a lot of spousal abuse on this reservation, assault against women, rape, and so there are just a host of things our students have to overcome to get a college degree."

Shortbull also says he is extremely proud of all of their accomplishments.

Oglala Lakota College President Thomas Shortbull says, "This is the happiest day that I have as a college president because I know the challenges that our students have gone through. That's what OLC is to the Pine Ridge Community. We are a beacon of hope for people when they want to change their lives."

Winters-Denny encourages students who are struggling to always believe in themselves.

Graduate Bernadette Winters-Denny says, "The only person that's going to push you is yourself so just keep reaching for the stars and dreams and goals are possible."
Winters-Denny says the next step is becoming a certified public accountant.

After the ceremony, graduates and their families celebrated with a Pow Wow.