IAIA - Institute of American Indian Arts

IAIA’s 2012 Commencement: Honorary Doctorates to N. Scott Momaday and James Luna; John Trudell Gives Commencement Address

Santa Fe, NM | Apr 25, 2012 –

Celebrating a milestone this year, the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) will honor three distinguished American Indian artists and authors, and three valedictorians at its 2012 commencement.

The Institute, which is celebrating its 50th year, will bestow honorary doctorates to author N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa), and artist James Luna (Lusieño).  The campus’ graduating class has chosen actor, author and recording artist John Trudell (Santee Sioux) to deliver the commencement address at 11 a.m. May 11.

N. Scott Momaday, whose father was a painter and his mother, an author of children’s books, grew up on reservations in the Southwest where his parents were also teachers. After attending the University of New Mexico, Momaday won a poetry fellowship to Stanford University’s creative writing program. In 1963, Momaday earned a Ph.D. in English literature. His first novel, House Made of Dawn in 1969, earned him a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Since then, he has written several award-winning books and taught at various colleges, including the University of Arizona. In 2007, President George W. Bush awarded him the National Medal of Arts for his writings and his work that celebrate and preserve Native American art and oral tradition.

Born in 1950 in California, James Luna earned a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts in Studio Arts from University of California, Irvine, in 1976 and a Master’s in counseling from San Diego State University in 1983. Inspired by personal experience and critical observations, Luna has created multimedia installations and groundbreaking performances that challenge perceptions and expectations of Native people in the past three decades. His many awards include the Joan Mitchell Award for sculpture in 2010 and the Distinguished Artist Award from the Eiteljorg Museum in Indiana in 2007.

Born in Nebraska in 1946, John Trudell is also a man of multi-talents. From 1969 to 1971, Trudell was a spokesman for the Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island. He later joined the American Indian Movement (AIM), and served as its national chairman from 1973 to 1979. Trudell is also a poet and recording artist, performing Native music, blues and rock. In addition to his music career, Trudell is also an actor and has had roles in feature films, including Thunderheart starring Val Kilmer, Smoke Signals written by Sherman Alexie and directed by Chris Eyre, and the Emmy-award winning Dreamkeeper.

In addition to these three distinguished guests, the Institute will also honor three valedictorians, two of who will speak during commencement.  Jamie Figueroa, 35, who is an enrolled member of the Taíno Tribe in Puerto Rico and of Afro-Caribbean and Spanish decent, will graduate with a B.F.A. in Creative Writing. Figueroa, who grew up in rural Ohio, attended five universities before moving to Santa Fe in 2005 to study with author Natalie Goldberg. After meeting an IAIA dean in the writing community, Figueroa decided to enroll at IAIA where she says she not only received the skills to strengthen her craft but found the support she needed to get through college. Figueroa has been published in various literary journals, including Split Oak Press, ekleksographia, the Tribal College Journal and the Santa Fe Literary Review. She also created an internship for herself at the Santa Fe Reporter writing an online blog, “With This Pen,” which explores race, identity and relationships. Figueroa has also taught creative writing in elementary, middle and high schools, and in the Honors Program at the University of New Mexico. She believes story–the act of telling story and listening to story–is the most powerful tool we have as human beings to enact compassion and change.

After working 20 jobs (nearly a job a month) and dropping out of the University of Oklahoma, Blue Tarpalechee of Okmulgee, Okla., then 22, thought he had the job that would be his for a lifetime. After a car accident ended his short U.S. Postal Service career, Tarpalechee, who is an enrolled Muscogee (Creek), found himself with nothing to do. Deciding to come to Santa Fe to hang out with a friend, Brian Fleetwood (the third 2012 valedictorian) who was attending IAIA, Tarpalechee discovered a theater playing films by American Indian filmmakers while walking around. One filmmaker, Sterling Harjo, was from his same tribe. Tarpalechee also discovered that Harjo was quite successful, and admired Harjo’s passion. Tarpalechee decided to enroll at IAIA after a campus tour the next day. Tarpalechee, 26, who has been on the President’s Honor Roll since 2008, will be graduating with a 4.0 GPA with a B.F.A. in New Media Arts. His films have won several awards, including first place in the film category in 2010 and 2011 in the annual American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) Student Conference, a competition among more than 300 students enrolled at tribal colleges.

Both students, who plan to go to graduate school, say perseverance and support from IAIA helped them finally fulfill their dreams. Failure also wasn’t such a bad thing.

“As cheesy as it sounds, you have to not be afraid to fail,” Tarpalechee said. “It took me failing in order to succeed.”

Watch the unedited video of  IAIA’s 2012 commencement 

The public is welcome to attend the 2012 commencement.  Offering degrees in studio arts, creative writing, new media arts, Indigenous liberal studies, and museum studies, IAIA is the only college in the nation dedicated to the study of contemporary Native arts.  It is the only college in New Mexico with National Association of Schools of Art and Design accreditation. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges, the school began as a high school for Native American students in 1962 and now serves nearly 400 Native and non-Native American college students from across the nation. IAIA, which aided in the development of the Santa Fe contemporary Native American art movement, is celebrating 50 years of excellence in 2012 with an anniversary commemoration on October 13 and various events, including alumni artwork auction August 15. 

For more information about IAIA, please visit www.iaia.edu.  The school will stream the commencement ceremony online May 11 starting at 11 a.m.

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Contact Information

Kim Baca, 505-424-2351 or at kbaca@iaia.edu.