TSELANI/COTTONWOOD, Ariz. — Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren unexpectedly found that the students at Cottonwood Day School “touched my heart” Wednesday evening as they told stories of the same difficulties he grew up with.
The president and Navajo Nation Council Speaker Crystalyne Curley were the guests of honor at the school’s Parents Leadership Celebration and banquet there.
“I really am encouraged that the Navajo people will have a strong future ahead because of all of these students,” President Nygren told a crowd of 200 in the school’s gymnasium. “The issues that your students brought up are dear to my heart: running water, electricity, roads, public safety and jobs for our people and our communities.”
He thanked the parents and grandparents for all they do for the students in the K-8th grade day school.
“Whoever is raising them, thank you for continuing to believe in them,” the president said.
He told his audience because people believed in him as he was growing up like them, without power, running water and in hard conditions, he was able to get to where he is today.
Just watching the community come together for the dinner, he said, to praise the students and to see Principal David Propst express such care and love for the school and the students, caused him to feel emotional.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of you children,” Principal Propst said to the students. “And there is one young lady right here that we are so proud of. She shows that anyone from Cottonwood can make it!”
He was speaking of Navajo Nation Council Speaker Crystalyne Curley, who graduated from 8th grade as a Cottonwood Day School Mountaineer.
President Nygren also praised Speaker Curley for driving more than an hour in near-blizzard conditions to share the evening with the students and their families.
“It was very exciting because we need more educators and educational leaders who come here who have their hearts in the right place,” he said. “Students want to prepare themselves for the future and the best way is to not have to worry about basic needs of survival. That really touched my heart and that’s what resonated with me.”
He said educators’ commitment to students is what helps their students succeed.
“Coming to a community that’s very remote, with not a lot of services, not a lot of gas stations or even a laundromat within the 25-mile radius, I think communities like this may feel forgotten,” he said. “I want to make sure that these communities aren’t forgotten. So with my visit and with Speaker Curley, I think that shows leadership cares for them.”
He gave credit to the audience for its “spirit of happiness, just being happy in the moment, being happy with what you have. That’s what a lot of us can learn from a community.”
Sylvia Preston, veterans service officer for Chinle Agency, said President Nygren spoke from his experience which is so close to what these students experience every day.
“He talked about his life and that gives it the true meaning because he experienced the same thing these kids are experiencing right now,” she said. “And that’s real.”
“I want to say to the little ones,” President Nygren said, “Believe in yourself. And to all the grandmas and relatives, continue to encourage them and to believe that they can do something for their lives and their communities.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if somebody didn’t believe in me. If somebody believes in you, that’s all it takes, whether they’re your kids, your relatives’ or your friends’ kids. It’s the little words that make the difference.”