Tara lay on the couch, her head spinning from the night before. Pizza boxes, empty cans, and people littered the cramped living room of the college rental house where she chose to hang out instead of her dorm room. She couldn’t find the motivation to move.
For a moment she thought about her astronomy class. Then, she realized that her teacher wouldn’t miss her today or any day because she had quit going to class last month. She pulled the blanket over her head and buried herself into the cushions of the couch.
Where did I go wrong? she wondered.
Success: a straight or curvy path?
As a recent high school graduate, Tara’s goals were disappearing. The expectations of her mom, who was a college graduate, as well as those of her teachers, counselors, houseparents, and siblings were drowning her.
The path to success is rarely straight.
She had veered far away from what she thought was the straight line to success: college. Her dream of completing a degree faded, and Tara returned to her reservation—the one place she had tried so hard to avoid.
Her life suddenly became a curvy path. Tara explains, “People say, ‘Do this, this, and this,’ but they don’t say how you will mess up!” She laughs a bit and continues, “You are going to mess up a lot.”
In spite of the healthy environment her mom provided, Tara partied even more when she returned to the reservation. She fell into the trap many young people do: alcohol abuse.
“I drank whatever was available,” she admits.
This abuse is extremely common on reservations. In fact, it is so prevalent that Native Americans die from alcohol-related causes at a rate four times higher than any other U.S. citizen.
This destructive behavior led to a new and unexpected curve in Tara’s path. On her 19th birthday, she discovered she was pregnant.
A wake-up call
After the initial shock of her baby news, Tara knew that she needed to go to school, find a good job, and provide for her daughter. Luckily, her own mother was drug and alcohol free, and with her family’s support, Tara knew she could turn her life around.
“I had seen my mom do it,” Tara says with a smile. Her mom, a college graduate, is a single parent of four children. “At the time, my siblings were 18, 12, and 10, so they were a big help with babysitting while I worked and went to school.”
Tara attended the tribal college in Marty, SD. In 2005, she finished her Associate of Arts degree with an emphasis in education. “I was working at a hotel as the night auditor from midnight to 8:00 a.m. Then, I would go straight to class. My mom and my siblings watched the baby.“
Even though Tara had finished school and had become a secretary at the tribal hall, she still had dreams of completing a bachelor’s degree and providing a better life for her daughter.
“The biggest obstacle was myself,” she now admits. “Maybe I was scared. I had to let go of the expectations people had of me and the ones I had of myself. Once I did that, I was ready to be happy and ‘live happily ever after’—lol.”
Tara continued living at home, and with the support of her Tiȯšpaye, extended family, she achieved another associate degree, this time in business.
“If only an AA and AB equalled a BA,” Tara jokes.
Still in pursuit of the elusive bachelor’s degree, Tara enrolled at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, SD.
“I moved to Vermillion to pursue a business degree. I attended for a year, but I was scared of failing, so I stopped going to class,” she relates with a sigh.
The pressure to succeed was keeping her from achieving her dreams. Read part 2 of Tara's journey here.
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