The University of Alaska Fairbanks, Kuskokwim Campus (KuC) celebrated its 44th commencement ceremony on Thursday, with 68 students graduating this year. Several were enrolled in the two-year associate's degree Rural Human Services program.
Commencement keynote speaker Esther Green, formerly a Yup’ik Language teacher with the Lower Kuskokwim School District, has been an elder teacher in the Rural Human Services program at the campus for several years.
“My first education, my mom culturally educated me... She showed me, so I remembered, and she included me in everything she did,” said Green. “Those were the things I needed to know. Now she is a branch on that tree. Everything she taught me about was all interconnected to who I am as a Yup’ik person.”
One of KuC's first graduates, Green is originally from Nunapitchuk. She told graduates about her early struggles with the western education model and how it differed from the traditional education she’d been brought up with.
“When I entered the classroom it was like an alien dimension,” Green said.
Green dropped out of school in sixth grade. She married and raised a family, but eventually made her way back to higher education after her children had grown.
“But I had to do it; it was a must do or else no degree and no chance to be a Yup’ik teacher. It was scary because it was so different than my mom’s instruction ways,” said Green.
At the Kuskokwim Campus, Green has been involved in bringing cultural teaching models into the classroom setting through the Rural Human Services (RHS) program.
“They see how being Yup’ik, Cup’ik, or whatever their culture, it is okay,” Green said.
“There is nothing wrong with the culture they came from.”
In the RHS program, Green says, students incorporate life experiences and cultural practices as part of their foundation for learning and for sharing.
“What we learn in life and in college does not belong to us. Knowledge is not a possession that you keep for yourself or that you own. It must be shared with your people, your community; it must be given away,” said Green.
This year, the program produced 24 Rural Human Services Certificate graduates, 26 Associate Degrees, two Baccalaureate Degrees, 10 Community Health Aides, and eight Certified Nurse Aides.