Haskell graduates encouraged to take a chance on themselves

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Life experiences can be turned into opportunities if one chooses not to wait, the keynote speaker at Haskell Indian Nations University’s commencement told graduates Friday morning.

With their long-awaited diplomas in reach and bright futures ahead, Haskell’s fall 2022 and spring 2023 graduates listened to speaker Steven Paul Judd, a Kiowa-Choctaw artist, writer and filmmaker, as he shared his journey to where he is today.

Judd is known for blending pop culture and Native American traditions and has worked with renowned brands and franchises, such as Nike, Vans, Marvel, Netflix, HBO and more. 

Rather than offer a chain of life lessons during his speech, Judd said he wanted to tell graduates a story about a time he was leaving from work in the middle of the night and agreed to give a stranger a car ride to a nearby bus stop. From his alarming — yet simultaneously humorous — interaction with the man, he said he learned something that changed his life. 

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Steven Paul Judd, a Kiowa-Choctaw artist, writer, and filmmaker known for his unique style that blends pop culture with Native tradition, was the featured speaker.

“We are beings that adapt and evolve in order to survive,” Judd said. “We are also creatures with fear of the unknown, and the future is the biggest unknown. The one thing that consistently allows us to break through that fear is jeopardy.”

As a Haskell alum himself, Judd said he could relate to the feeling of moving on from college without feeling sure of what was to come. He said he took an experience where he felt panicked and wrote it down as a screenplay, which ended up jumpstarting his career. Just as he learned to do, Judd implored graduates to invite fear in and take initiative in their lives, rather than waiting on a big opportunity to land.

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times

“Now, I’m not saying drive around at 2 in the morning picking up hitchhikers,” he joked. “But all you need to do is practice imagining your version of being in a situation where your time has run out. Really feel what it’s like that no more time is left, and realize that wasting the present is the worst thing you can do.”

Graduates were surrounded by family, friends, faculty, staff and community members inside Coffin Sports Complex on Haskell’s campus.

President Frank Arpan recognized individual students for their academic achievements, “high integrity” and “impeccable character.”

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Frank Arpan

Arpan announced Alexandra Holder and invited her onstage to be recognized as Haskell’s Student of the Year.

Additionally, the American Indian College Fund (AICF), a nonprofit organization that provides financial support to Native American students, at the end of each year awards one Haskell student for their accomplishments and contributions to the school. Arpan named Randy Estrin, who graduated with a bachelor of science in business administration and management, the 2023 AICF Student of the Year and invited him on stage for recognition.

Attendees erupted in excitement when Judd announced at the end of his speech that he was working with a clothing company to create limited T-shirts as gifts to graduating students because “everyone should get at least one graduation gift.” 

Arpan’s resounding message to the Haskell graduates was to encourage them to continue sharing their passions with the world around them.

“As you move on, from Haskell to wherever you may go — whether that’s graduate school, or a career, or just to pick up random hitchhikers — leave each chapter a little better than you found it,” Arpan said. “If you notice a process … or an initiative that could be improved – that could be added to – take a chance and voice your opinion.”

The 2023 Graduation Powwow is set for Friday and Saturday at the Haskell powwow grounds or in the gym in case of inclement weather. Grand Entry will be at 7 p.m. Friday and 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $5 per session or $10 for a two-day pass.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

Molly Adams (she/her), photojournalist and news operations coordinator for The Lawrence Times, can be reached at molly (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Check out more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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