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American Indian Graduation Ceremony

Now in its sixth year and a staple to our community, the annual Madison All-City American Indian Graduation Ceremony continues to be organized by members of the greater Native American community of Dane County. As the second largest city and among the largest urban Indian communities in Wisconsin, American Indian educators and community members organize and host a city-wide American Indian graduate ceremony in Madison each spring.  The ceremony honors American Indian students graduating from Kindergarten, 5th, 8th and 12th grades, as well as our city’s American Indian undergraduate, graduate and professional students completing their educations from professional certifications to terminal degrees, including Ph.D, JD, MBA, MFA, and MD.

American Indian retention and educational achievement remain pressing issues.  In 2009, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) noted a drop-out rate of 21% for American Indian youth in public education, in comparison to the 5% drop-out rate for white students.  In the same year, there were only 15 American Indian high school seniors in the entire Madison Metropolitan School District, and the four-year graduation rate for American Indian students in MMSD was 58%.  The profound underrepresentation and significant achievement gap explain why it is important for our American Indian students, particularly those within the Pk-12 levels, to be exposed to opportunities where educational achievements are celebrated and acknowledged. American Indian educators in the greater-community embrace this culturally-relevant education model, as it allows for younger students to see and receive honor with older students finishing their advanced degrees.  Now in its sixth year, students and families remain appreciative of this community effort and are excited about the coming year’s event.

Educational research reminds us that cultural validation in educational settings remains a vital component for American Indian student retention and American Indian student development.  Honoring graduates and their families in culturally-relevant ways instills in our young students a sense of pride and assurance that their academic paths can be positive and successful. Promoting educational retention and graduation are the primary objectives of our annual graduation event. As many tribes are always thinking in terms of their next seven generations, the recognition of the students’ achievements support this idea and include a multi-generational participation of American Indian students, educators, professionals, and elders. Each year, keynote speakers focus on the responsibilities American Indian & Alaska Native graduates inherit with their education.  This event remains unique in that it is the single event during the year that brings our community together for the purpose of celebrating educational achievements as a community.

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