Published October 23, 2016
WINDOW ROCK – Molita Yazzie remembers herself as a teen mom, holding her child and thinking, “My life is over.”
“I never imagined that at 50 I’d be graduating from the world’s Number One university,” she said.
But that’s exactly what’s happening. In a few weeks, Yazzie, of Mesa, Arizona, will be flying back to Oxford University in England to claim her master’s degree in social and cultural anthropology — probably the first Navajo ever to receive an advanced degree from the storied institution.
Not only that, she did it while raising her son and grandson, who accompanied her to England.
“It’s been a fast, crazy year,” sighed Yazzie, who is Naakai Diné’e born for Kin Yaa’áanii.
It all started a little over a year ago, when Yazzie was chosen as the first recipient of a brand new scholarship for Native Americans interested in environmental and social justice. Yazzie applied, not thinking she had a chance. But the plucky single mom who had managed to get a bachelor’s degree after dropping out of high school was exactly the kind of student the scholarship committee was looking for.
For Yazzie, it was a dream come true. After beating the odds to get her B.A., she had started to dream — in between raising children and working — of continuing her education at an Ivy League school.
Was it everything she’d expected?
“It was a little more than I bargained for,” said Yazzie. “I didn’t know what blood, sweat, and tears were until I studied at Oxford.”
For someone who’s juggled family, work, and school most of her life, that’s saying a lot.
This year, it was just family and school. The scholarship provided a stipend that, with some good husbanding, allowed the little family to save up for a trip across Europe on a break from school. In addition to such iconic landmarks as Stonehenge and Edinburgh Castle, Yazzie and her boys were able to see some of Italy, Switzerland, and France.
“Since we were there, I just really wanted my boys to experience as much of Europe as possible,” Yazzie said.
Oxford itself is of course a tourist attraction.
“When you’re first there, you’re in tourist mode,” Yazzie said. “It’s very Harry Potterish. Then after you’re there for a while, it’s just where you live. My son would see someone with a camera and say, ‘Mom, that was us!’”
What did she miss? Family of course. Hearing the Navajo language. Mexican food. Steak.
“There’s nothing in the world like American steak,” declared Yazzie.
But now she finds herself missing Oxford. Not the food, though.
“Definitely the weather,” she mused. “People are saying it’s cooled off a lot here (since summer), but it still feels hot to me.”
And the freedom of getting around without a car.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved.