IAIA - Institute of American Indian Arts

IAIA’s 2012 Commencement on NBC News with Brian Williams

Santa Fe, NM | Jun 8, 2012 –

NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams captured IAIA’s 2012 commencement and interviewed two of the three 2012 valedictorians, Blue Tarpalechee and Jamie Figueroa, for the show’s annual graduation segment, which will air nationally on Friday, June 8. Check your local NBC affiliate for air times.

Longer versions of the interviews with Blue and Jamie are posted now online on the Nightly News’ website:


American Indian students find refuge in cultural curriculum

By Chiara Sottile
NBC News

After he dropped out of the University of Oklahoma, Blue Tarpalechee of the Muscogee-Creek tribe worked more than 20 jobs in two years: fast food restaurants, movie theaters, and eventually his tribal casino. He was 21 when he got a job counting money at the Creek Nation Casino Okmulgee. He would wake up hours before the sun, put on his uniform — a black, sleeveless and pocketless jumpsuit — and report to the casino’s vault.

The room was cramped with tables and filled with the constant flick-flick-flicking of the money counting machines. For six hours each day, Tarpalechee counted the money box of every machine in the casino. And counted them again. And a third time. One morning as he “counted someone else’s money” in the confines of the vault’s faded yellow walls, Tarpalechee realized this was not the path his life was meant to take, and he had to make a change.

That’s when he found the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico on a serendipitous weekend visit. “The Institute is really special,” said Tarpalechee. “They honor our traditions and where we come from and the communities that we represent.” On a windy Friday in May, Tarpalechee, now 26, not only graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Moving Images from IAIA, but graduated as one of three valedictorians.

Read more and view the video of the interviews with Blue Tarpalechee and Jamie Figueroa.