GJ grads dispatched into world with firm grasp of community

Taralynn Begay is congratulated by Grand Junction High School Principal Jon Bilbo at commencement at Stocker Stadium.

As a steady rain broke over Stocker Stadium, Taralynn Begay took her diploma in the manner similar to which she arrived at Grand Junction High School last fall.


With her hands crossed and folded in front of her, Begay cracked a quick grin after leaving the stage. Underneath her black gown, she wore a traditional Navajo skirt and a top made by her grandmother. Begay’s ears were decorated with native jewelry, her feet protected from the morning’s downpour by Navajo moccasins.

“My grandmother wanted me to show off my heritage,” said Begay, 19, who was among 365 graduates at the ceremony.

Principal Jon Bilbo said Grand Junction is the only local high school that requires each graduate to complete 30 hours of service-learning programs, which involve students seeking out volunteer opportunities in the community. The class of 2011 completed more than 38,000 hours, and roughly 30 percent of the class completed 111 hours or more, Bilbo boasted. He told graduates they were being “sent” into the world.

“Being sent means you go out like a tiger because you have something to do,” the principal said, amid rain and beach balls tossed among the graduates.

Begay, meanwhile, arrived in Grand Junction more like a wounded tiger. Her family had moved from the Navajo reservation south of Blanding, Utah, where Begay said she battled bullying problems from classmates in a small high school with a few hundred students.

“It was difficult at first at such a big school, but I got used to it,” she said of Grand Junction High.

There were more hurdles for Begay, including the alcohol-poisoning death of her best friend in Utah, which occurred within weeks of the death of a grandmother.

“I couldn’t concentrate on my work at all and just wanted to quit,” Begay said.

Begay nonetheless resolved to get through her senior year at Grand Junction, less interested in becoming “part of the scene,” according to Ann Kuhlman, a school counselor.

Kuhlman said Begay was enrolled in the school’s key performance program, a curriculum for students at risk of being forced to complete a fifth or sixth year in order to graduate.

“When her friend died, it gave me a reason to begin a mentoring relationship with her,” Kuhlman said. “She has this quiet strength. When she talks about her family making her traditional dress, she just sparkled.”

Begay will study nursing this fall at Dixie State College in Utah.


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