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Tribal Members Participate in Native American Graduation May 7, 2009
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American Indian students gather for graduation

Published: Friday, May 8, 2009 at 11:16 a.m.
Matt Stamey/Staff
A group of American Indians perform a traditional song at the end of the Gathering of Native American Graduates Thursday evening at the Houma Municipal Auditorium.

HOUMA - A solemn drum beat kept time as a procession filed into the Houma Municipal Auditorium Thursday night. Marching in pairs, more than two dozen students stood on the edge of adulthood.

But two things deeper than appearance or age brought them together. They shared success, each soon to walk at a local high-school graduation. And they also shared the traditions and heritage of a common culture through their Native American ancestry.

The students and about 150 audience members were there for the annual Gathering of Native Graduates, a ceremony organized by administrators in the Terrebonne school system to recognize graduating American Indian students. The event is paid for entirely by donations from individuals and businesses - many of them American Indian and local to the area.

Students said the event is a powerful demonstration of community support for education.

"I think it's pretty awesome," said Jonah Giroir, an 18-year-old at Ellender Memorial High. "That's a nice way for Native Americans to show they care about the youth ... and want them to succeed in life."

About 30 of the parish's nearly 120 American Indian graduates were present. And each was surrounded by a bubble of family and friends.

Which is just how Giroir described the coming together of American Indians - and the ancient culture they share.

"It's like a big family," he said. "A big family helps you remember."

The night's featured speaker was Dr. Darrell Solet, a cardiologist at the Cardiovascular Institute of the South. Despite leaving the bayou for college and medical school, Solet said love for his home brought him back.

He told the students to be persistent in the face of setbacks. He said his success came not from overwhelming talent, but because he worked hard.

"As long as I keep trying, I'm not going to fail," he said. "If I give up, that's when I fail. And failure is not an option."

But the students received more than encouraging words. A number of scholarships and awards were given out at the ceremony.

Channing Parfait, an 18-year-old at Ellender, received a Verdin Indian Heritage Scholarship, established by a American Indian dentist.

"It's really cool that I got the scholarship from a dentist," said Parfait, who wants to pursue a career in dentistry.

Speakers emphasized the change from the past, when local American Indian students performed poorly in school. Kirby Verret, who is in charge of Terrebonne's Indian Education program, said students have help from their families and communities like never before.

But he said it was up to the students to make the most of their futures.

"Thank you for coming together," he told them as the ceremony ended. "Now young people: Go forth and find your place in life."