This I Believe

Cuyler - Las Cruces, New Mexico
Entered on December 8, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30

This I believe: Education can turn tragedy into triumph

When I broke my back at 18 in a car accident, I thought my life was over. As a young Navajo, I took pride in bullriding and cross-country running. I was an all-district, all-state winner.

What now? I thought. Confined to a wheelchair for life? What’s the use? With encouragement from my dad, I enrolled in New Mexico State University. I like building things and enrolled in mechanical engineering, but I also enjoy writing and enrolled in the communications program.

I discovered I liked learning. I began making learning videos in Navajo for NMSU: one on handling cattle that we jointly created with another university and one on handling food. But of course, sports are important at universities and even though I couldn’t play, I enjoyed the games. When I was little, I would call the games in Navajo.

One day, the director of sports marketing, Sean Johnson, asked me if I would want to actually call the football games in Navajo for a Web cast. I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. It was a bold step for the university. No one knew if the project would succeed.

Suddenly, I, who thought my life was over at 18, now had a whole new one. The Web cast was so popular, it became a radio broadcast. I had a partner, Darryl Multine. And there were so many reporters calling me for interviews, I had to turn off my cell phone so I could study.

The Navajo broadcast was a pivotal thing for me as a young Navajo. It was also pivotal for NMSU, reaching out to the Navajo nation and trying to connect to young people who might be dreaming of a future but who might be thinking they have none.

Language is a part of a person’s identity. Preserving the language means helping to preserve the identity, the culture of the Navajo. And it was an important step for this university.

Because so many doors have opened to me through NMSU, I want to show others that they can come to college, pursue a field in which they are happy and can be productive, still preserve and enjoy their culture and yet be part of something bigger than all of that.

If they enjoy construction, they might even like pursuing civil engineering more; if they enjoy working with animals, they can pursue animal sciences.

Given my growth through education, I want to urge all universities to encourage innovative ideas to reach out to minorities. Don’t just talk the talk. Walk the walk. Help students achieve through the expression of their own cultures. In doing so, we all triumph.