Western Carolina University's Cherokee Center has a long tradition of celebrating members of graduating classes with ties to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
It's more than a symbolic gesture.
The Cherokee Center is, and has been, involved and invested in the educational careers of Qualla Boundary residents and Native Americans for more than four decades now. The center provides a broad range of assistance and support for anyone interested in attending WCU, which includes guidance through the application process, conducting campus tours and providing educational workshops, as well as alumni engagement and cultural awareness both on campus and off.
In fact, "guidance" and "assistance" are the key words in the overall mission and role of the Cherokee Center, established by WCU in 1975. So, embracing and congratulating those who are earning degrees is always a special moment.
However, spring commencement ceremonies originally scheduled for May have been postponed in the wake of the global health crisis. Chancellor Kelli R. Brown and other campus leaders are looking at tentative dates for rescheduling commencement exercises. Students who complete all academic requirements for graduation at the end of the semester are awarded degrees.
The Cherokee Center will still present those being conferred degrees at the end of the semester with customized Cherokee language stoles, offer congratulations via social media and encourage continued success.
"Let’s show these students how important they are to their tribes and their communities. We are so impressed and proud of our graduates this year and every year to come." Sky Sampson, Cherokee Center Director
"The graduation rate for Native American students is less than half of the U.S. average," said Sky Sampson, director of the center and an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. "So, let’s show these students how important they are to their tribes and their communities. We are so impressed and proud of our graduates this year and every year to come. Even though we cannot honor them in person, we wish wellness and happiness to each of them as they celebrate the end of their time at WCU."
The Cherokee Center's commencement celebration also is an opportunity for graduates to thank others for the support of their educational pursuits, especially when balancing careers and family with classes.
Sasha Sampson is one such graduate, gaining a master's degree in social work this semester. She works in the family safety program in Cherokee, where she handles foster care licensure and recruitment.
"I hope to use this degree to give back and serve the community that raised me," said Sampson, who grew up in the Snowbird community but now lives in Cherokee. "I want to thank my mom and dad for supporting me no matter where my dreams take me, my husband, Jordan, as he has provided all the love and support I could ask for while pursuing my master's. My children, Hermione, Korbin and Kollin, have been the perfect cheerleaders, keeping me motivated when things were most challenging. Lastly, I want to thank my daughter Maverick, for giving me the desire and drive to be someone she would be proud of."
For more information on the center and activities, visit cherokeecenter.wcu.edu or call 828-497-7920.