Former USU student receives honorary degree at USU Pow Wow

A young girl congratulates Jenny Begaii during a blanket ceremony at the 42nd Annual USU Pow Wow.

LOGAN – The pounding of drums could be heard echoing through the Nelson Fieldhouse on USU’s campus Friday and Saturday as part of the 42nd Annual USU Pow Wow. Dancers, drum groups and vendors from all over the Western United States showed up to take part in the event the USU Native American Student Council (NASC) hosts annually.

“The Pow Wow is one of the longest standing traditions on USU’s campus,” said Angela Enno, a multicultural program coordinator for USU’s Access and Diversity Center. “It’s definitely our biggest cultural event and it’s one of the biggest events campus holds every year.”

USU alumnus Jenny Begaii has been attending the event for decades, but Saturday night had added importance for the Navajo elder. Begaii was a student at USU in the late 70s, but had to leave when her husband became sick. She had earned more than 100 credits, but was unable to graduate. That was until Saturday, when Begaii was awarded with an honorary associate of science degree.

“We really wanted to have the opportunity to honor her and honor her contribution to her own education,” Enno said.

Enno said Begaii has supported the university for years and that her children and grandchildren have also attended the school. USU Associate Vice President for Student Services Eric Olsen said Begaii has been attending the Pow Wow since before he first met her in 1982.

“She had earned quite a few credits and the family approached me and wondered if there was something she could be recognized for,” Olsen said. “We got together and looked at the credits she had earned and got approval from the provost to award her.”

In addition to receiving the honorary degree, Begaii was also honored with a blanket ceremony – a Native American tradition where elders are honored and given a blanket along with other gifts. According to Enno, two people who are particularly close to the elder being honored or who are important to the Pow Wow award the blanket.

“They come up behind the elder and they show her the blanket and they wrap it around her shoulders,” Enno said. “That’s just a way of showing respect, appreciation and love for her.”

Begaii wasn’t the only elder honored Saturday night. USU alumnus Carmelita Red Elk Thomas, who helped form NASC in 1973, was also honored during a blanket ceremony. During her ceremony, Red Elk Thomas gave back by donating money to NASC.

The Pow Wow also included three Grand Entries, one Friday and two Saturday. According to Enno, during the Grand Entry, people wearing traditional Native American regalia enter the area dancing in order to help set a spiritual, patriotic and celebratory tone. Enno said the purpose of the event is to celebrate the Native American heritage and culture.

“It’s just a time for Native Americans to get together and enjoy each others company,” she said. “Many tribes and many different nations are represented there.”

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