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Larrita Riggs
Larrita Riggs

Growing up, my family hauled water and wood, because we didn’t have running water and electricity. Productivity for our family meant always being physically active, whether it was chopping wood, tending to the horses, or cleaning around the house. Throughout high school, I did most of my homework in the bathroom— with a flashlight, when my family went to sleep—because I didn’t want them to worry.

Reflecting upon those experiences, what I remember above all, is having the choice to go to college, even though none of my family members had that choice before. I struggle most about leaving the songs, stories, ceremonies, and the traditional ways of our people. As the first in my entire family to leave the reservation, I asked my grandfather what he thought of this. In our Diné language, he said, I was carrying a lighted torch of fire through a canyon, through an unknown place, for our people to follow.

I left the reservation with no real awareness of the inequities in the world – the appalling disparities of health, wealth, and opportunity that millions of people face. But being among so much energy and intelligence is truly inspiring. College has been exciting, intimidating, sometimes even discouraging, but it has always been challenging, in a good way. It’s been an amazing privilege – and though I am still learning — I’ve been transformed by my experiences at Portland State University.

At the end of the day, many student inventors, activists, and future leaders from around the world come to PSU to support and defend their traditional ways of life. And resources matter in this process! Opportunity is what it takes to build strong, successful young people…not genetics or pedigree.

As I graduate in June with my Child and Family Studies degree, I know I will be forever grateful for those who donated to my scholarship – for carrying the torch through the canyon with me and providing other scholars with the resources and opportunity to help our world. If there is one thing you should know, it is that you’re not just investing in us, you’re also investing in the missing voices of our people for the betterment of our communities and nations.

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