My Journey from the Reservation to a Higher Education

By: Wyatt Whitegoat

On the Navajo reservation, a college education seemed unreachable, something that was mentioned but never explained. I grew up in a community where the rates of poverty, teen pregnancy, gambling, domestic violence, diabetes, and alcoholism were extremely high. At times I thought, how can I avoid becoming one of these statistics? I owe my confidence and success to family, friends, teachers, professors, and mentors who have helped me along the way.

In elementary school, I was the student that was placed in remedial courses. While everyone could complete the multiplication chart in one minute, I could only get through two of five rows. In middle school, I dreamed of being like my siblings in their academic success by seeking to go to a private high school in Wallingford, Connecticut. I enrolled in advanced courses, studied hard, and got the grades I aimed for. Despite this hard work, I was denied acceptance because my PSAT score was not in the 90th percentile, let alone the 50th percentile. Although my family supported my achievements, I felt like a failure in their eyes because I was not following the same academic path as my siblings.

As it turned out, not getting accepted into the high school where I originally saw myself allowed me to create my own path. I had three goals in high school: 1) Get good grades, 2) Receive the Gates Millennium Scholarship, 3) Get into college. Adjusting to high school was a difficult process because of the culture shock. I had been a minority in the hallways, AP classes, and club activities. It seemed like I lived a double life — when I was at school I felt like I was not good enough, and when I was at home I felt like I did not belong. Still, I was able to accomplish those three goals of mine: I performed well in my classes, was selected as a Gates Millennium Scholar, and went on to Cornell College after graduating from high school.

The transition into college wasn’t too different from high school for me. I had already lived in a dorm in high school and experienced being independent. In my new environment, I was eager to explore new things and learn more about myself, keeping my head up even when I came across challenges. I was motivated to succeed with the hope that my people back home would forgive me for leaving the reservation to go on this new journey.

After spending countless hours of studying, asking questions, seeking help when I needed it the most, and finding myself in the process, I was able to complete college. With an amazing support system, I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Kinesiology. Since then I have gone on to pursue a Master’s of Athletic Training at Saint Louis University, aspiring to become a physical therapist.

Looking back on my high school and undergraduate experiences, I learned many valuable lessons: Never be afraid to say “I need help.” Do not let a standardize test define your intelligence. Never let anyone take away or question the knowledge you possess. Information comes from more places than a textbook. And, most importantly, follow an academic path that inspires you.