Wilfred Charlie will have more than one reason to smile tonight at the Scottsdale Community College commencement ceremony. Two of Charlie’s five children have earned associate’s degrees and will accept their diplomas.
The two girls are the first in their family to earn college degrees.
“I’m really proud of them for that,” said Charlie, a Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community police lieutenant. Charlie said he entered the police force straight out of high school and has worked there for 20 years. His wife, Sharlene, raised the children and worked as a teacher’s aide when they went to school.
Sharlene Charlie said there weren’t very many opportunities for her to attend school.
“I knew my parents couldn’t afford it,” she said. “I didn’t really know about all the opportunities that are available now.”
Christi Charlie, 20, will transfer to Arizona State University’s bachelor’s program with a degree in American Indian studies.
After ASU, she plans to attend law school with a specialization in American Indian law.
She hopes to use her education to give back to the tribe.
“It’s kind of expected that you bring that knowledge back to the community,” she said.
Heather Charlie, 21, said she plans to go on with her degree in general studies to pursue a bachelor’s in communication.
She found out she was pregnant last May, when she still had at least a semester to go. She worked with SCC advisers and was able to finish her classes required for graduation one week before her due date, she said.
“One of my goals in life was to graduate, before having kids, from college,” Heather Charlie said. “Just to show my kids that I took the time to go to school and make something of myself.”
Her daughter was born in January. Although she fulfilled her requirements last semester, Heather Charlie will accept her diploma tonight.
Both girls attended college with a scholarship from the Salt River community. The scholarship is available to members of the Indian community, and those who receive it must maintain a high grade point average and show a good attendance record, Christi Charlie said.
The Indian community stresses the importance of education among the young people, she said.
“As minorities, or even Native Americans, just the percentage of college graduates . . . is so low, that they really want to push it up,” she said.
SCC spokeswoman Chris Chesrown said the number of American Indian students graduating is up this year from last year. Last year, 19 Indian students applied for graduation. This year there are 30.
Wilfred Charlie said he has reason to be proud of all his children.
Christi and Heather are pursuing their education, his son and another daughter serve in the military, and all of the children are hard workers and selfsufficient, he said.
“I walk around with my head up high for all my kids,” he said.