by Sonni Ochoa
(Havre, MT, US)

Scholarship Essay - This scholarship contains past, present, future goals and my passion for family, academic, and peer to peer ethic. I also state how I would use the scholarship if awarded, which may allow the readers to know the importance of scholarships to students, and identify what they help to promote in society.

My name is Sonni Ochoa; I am a freshman at Montana State University - Northern. I just registered for the spring semester. My major is Education. I am from the Chippewa - Cree Rocky Boy Reservation here in Montana. I lived on the reservation for a little over ten years. I now live in Havre, Montana to be closer to the college. I am originally from Las Vegas, Nevada… an entire different life to me now. I never knew about Native Americans or reservations until I moved to Montana. My Grandmother told my mother to move up here because she knew how important to us knowing our own culture would be. It took me a long time to understand that, but I am so grateful to her for introducing her grandchildren to our history. In Las Vegas I knew that I was part Native American but as a child living in the city, I didn’t know what that meant.

I graduated from a Native American school in 2008 and a week later I attended Stone Child College, which is a tribal college. I believe that being surrounded by my own culture and people I strongly benefited from the comfort of the community. I knew that I belonged there and all the teachers, staff, and students had that same comfort. Even though I wasn’t ready to tackle college a week after graduation and I did not receive any degree from Stone Child I did learn a lot and changed for the better. High school was a struggle for me; I didn’t know who I was or what direction to take. I had a lot of trouble figuring out where I fit in; sports didn’t work, music wasn’t my strong suit and prom…dear gosh prom was not a marked day in my calendar! Then when I was a junior, I had this history class. New teacher, new syllabus…and I remember when he was going through the plans for the year, he mentioned Native American History… now that was something I liked, something that interested me. I had all these preconceived views and opinions of everything, man, I really thought I knew it all! I remember what I loved most about the class was our main assignments were to identify ourselves with the people. All he asked of us was to compare our lives to how they lived. After a few weeks of doing this it hit me…I finally realized that the history we learned was my history, my family, my ancestors. Now I’m going to tell you, this plays a huge role in where I am at today in my life.

Fast forward a couple of years to when I attend Stone Child…I wasn’t quite prepared for college, I was only seventeen then and fresh out of high school. The entire college was built to express culture from wall to wall, floor to ceiling. I went in to register for classes and ended up walking throughout the college looking at everything, reading everything, to me it was beauty and art, it was incredible. So a couple of weeks later I had now started school and am in a speech class when this young kid comes in with his hat backwards, pants sagging down, and he is obviously angry. He comes in with this very demanding tone interrupting class and goes on about how he needs to register today and right now will work best for his schedule because he is court ordered to attend school, get a job, or sit out his time. My instructor looks over at him and says, “Young man, I am in the middle of a class right now, but that makes no difference to you I see, I’ll tell you what, I will sign your sheet there in half hour you come back and bring me a sheet of paper stating why you want to be here and how you ended up here ok?” The kid got upset but did as she asked. At the end of the semester he had barely passed any of his other classes, but had excelled in hers. So I went back and thought about everything she assigned ten essays, a daily journal, impromptu speeches, research from five different medias…how did he do this?! I asked him and Ill never forget what he said.. He told me, “because she doesn’t get mad at me and tell me what to do. She knows Im here to stay out of jail and she doesn’t make me pay for that, like
do any more work than the rest of you. Plus, when I need help she just helps me she don’t ask questions about why I don’t already know it. She don’t care who I am she just sees who I can be.”

I now look at that teacher as a leader because the great teachers never judge students by how they dress, but rather by how they listened, waiting for direction, waiting for that approval. I’ve seen that look on kids’ faces that first day of school, that look of fear mixed with anticipation, they are eager to learn which is often unfortunately overlooked, it’s there you just have to see it. She saw that look in him… that’s who I want to be, the teacher that make a difference because I show faith when there is no guarantee of success, faith when they don’t even believe in themselves, and help students find the courage to unlock the ability of their own potential and maybe turn out different then some of their friends. I have this belief that “you have to go through it to preach to it,” which means walking in someone else shoes, have actually been through it and rose above it to successfully tell someone else how to do it. I have been where that young man has been, I was him for a long time. I was angry and made bad decisions in my teen years, but now I see what is important in life. My culture, my family, my traditions, how I treat this Earth and every being in it, shows who I truly am.

My goal after graduating is to be a High School History teacher and who specializes in Native American History. I thought about teaching on reservations solely, but have now decided to broaden that to everywhere. Everybody needs to understand our culture from our point of view. I lived in the city and I didn’t know anything about my people or my culture, I wish someone had told me and I don’t want a young Native out there who is held back by the fact they don’t know who they are or where they came from. I hope to start my teaching career on a reservation to gain more knowledge and tools and then eventually move to a city, where I can help educate people about Native Americans. I think that success is only achieved when one believes that they can do it and is willing to put in the hard work to achieve.

While I lived on the reservation I took part in every “clean up” day, Earth Day, day after the ceremonies, any feast or give aways. My family was taught if everybody does they’re small part for the people the people will do the same for each individual.

Before I enrolled in college, I worked as a hospital housekeeper for over a year. My original plan was to enroll in school part time and work part time but the university had decided to put me on a twelve credit limitation which forced me to resign from my job. I had a pretty decent salary that kept me financially stable and afoot. I graduated in 2008; four years ago and I knew that if I did not go to school now there was a big chance I would not go, so I took a chance and leapt forward. I have the motivation and I have the skills to graduate, my biggest fear is my financial situation will force me to quit school and go back to working as a housekeeper. I enjoyed some aspects of my job but I was not happy there; I know I have the mind to succeed. I want more out of life for me and my future family, they deserve better and I know I can give my children a better start.

If selected for this scholarship I will use the funds for tuition, text books, tutor programs, school supplies, and maybe a laptop so that I can do my research and typed assignments without worrying about public library schedules.

In closing, I appreciate all who have taken the time to read my essay, your time has been graciously accepted and I hope to be a candidate for this scholarship.

Thank you, Sonni Ochoa Montana State University Freshman

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Thank you Sonni for sharing your scholarship essay. Good luck to you in college.

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