Aug 6, 2015 - Paving A Path: Native Role Models, by Anpo Jensen

To my role models,

I can honestly say that within every difficult aspect that I’ve encountered in school or socially I’ve looked to your examples for help. Many of you I only see on rare occasions, but every time I have seen you, your presence has filled me with so much inspiration. My Ina (life giver, or in other words, my mother) has no idea how much I’ve looked to her demonstration for guidance.

I’ve met many of my role models at the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, a national conference that has all those in the STEM field working to recruit and guide aspiring STEM professionals. A society as established as AISES has a massive impact and it has always done so by showing underrepresented Native students what’s possible for them. Although Native Americans are very diverse, the key is that we’re together now no matter what our Native background, and that really is breathtaking to be a part of.

If I could classify my role models, I would say that they’ve mastered three things: fortitude, humility and compassion.

Humility is hard to keep in the Western world, even if you try. I’ve been through the application processes and the interviews; it is expected that you talk yourself up, and seeing these successful role models display humility despite this demand emphasizes how valuable it is to remain grounded.

As I will consistently remind people, the transition to college is tough. But you are not alone. I realized this when I sought guidance from a mentor at the AISES national conference. She had helped me in different ways in the past. This time, I was honest and straightforward about how my first quarter at Stanford was going. After sharing her first semester college experiences, we strategized on how I was going to approach the next challenges, whether it was being socially conflicted when talking to professors or dealing with finals.

This type of support makes all the difference in the world. Thus, my idea of being perfect has been transformed to fortitude. My idea of being strong has become self compassion.

Another example of my role models are the Natives that attended Stanford decades before me. Thank you for starting the Stanford American Indian Organization. Thank you for establishing a strong community and a strong voice and for creating this environment. When I get too caught up in school work, I have somewhere to go, friends to see that share these ideas, and it’s because of you.

Thank you to all the Native graduates at Stanford and to all the Natives in other schools.

I suppose my point in this article is to remind others of their power to influence because you never know who is watching, who thinks of you as this breakthrough, as this person leading the way. Stay tough, stay you; you are a role model.

When I was younger, I always thought that having a role model meant wanting to be like them. I was wrong. Now that I’m older I see that my role models made me want to be more like myself and because of their courage to be themselves, I was brave enough to do just that.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still bumps in the road, and I consistently turn back to these historical records of my role models and oral tradition and say, “This person went through this, but that person is living to be amazing. If she can do it, I can do it,“ and, “this person was kind despite everything they faced. If he can do it, I can do it.”

This Native idea of paving the path for others exists. This idea of working for future generations works.

Like I have said before in my previous articles, the best way for me to survive is to not think of myself, to not get caught up in the moment, but to think about those coming after me and use what I’ve learned from others to help myself. So that’s how I survived the jump from a small reservation school to one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. And to be candid, there are going to be a ton more obstacles.

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