Yuntlekalau McLester wanted to share her experiences in her commencement speech at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (UWGB) graduation ceremony held May 18. One of those experiences was with failure.
“It happens all the time in life, we can’t succeed if we never fail at something,” she said.
McLester spoke about some of her struggles to get her bachelor’s degree.
“I wanted to make it personal, and for me going to college wasn’t easy, especially my time at UWGB, because of loss of friendships, relationships, becoming a single mother,” said McLester. “To reflect on that, they may have been perceived as failure, because during those times I had difficulty doing my school work or concentrating or focusing, and really having that support around me was what got me through those times and to actually make me not stop going to school.”
She also wove her Oneida culture into her speech and outfit.
“There were a lot of components I wanted in my speech, like the Oneida language was a big part of it doing my introduction,” she said. “I wore my regalia instead of the cap, I wanted to explain why that was significant and why that was important to me, so that’s why I talk about my grandmother and wearing her skirt and leggings.”
McLester graduated with a degree in First Nations Studies and plans to continue studying Oneida language and culture. She is the daughter of Tsyoshaaht Caterina Delgado and Eric McLester.
Graduating Class Speaker Yuntlekalau McLester
Evangeline yutatyatskwe akhsothak<
Tsyosha>aht yutatyats aknulha
Yuntle>kala=& niyukyats, wakkwaho niwakitalot<, Onyote>a=ka niwakatuh<tsyot< ohkale Talu>kowahne thenakle>
Hello all of you. I’d like to introduce myself.
Evangeline Constance Webster-Delgado was my grandmother’s name
Tsyosha>aht Caterina Delgado is my mother’s name
Yuntle>kala=& is my name and I am of the wolf clan, People of the Standing Stone is the land and earth I come from, and I live where the Ducks are bountiful.
I give my introduction in the Oneida language to establish my relations. Lotinosaunee, People of the Longhouse are matrilineal, we follow our mothers which is why my mother and my mothers mother are included with extension to my clan, my people, and the land I occupy.
As an indigenous woman of Turtle Island, I find it important to stand before you as my true self, in my identity, and in my traditional clothing. I never had the chance to know my maternal grandmother but she was going to college in Chicago raising nine children on her own and passed away right before her college graduation. Today I honor her by wearing her skirt and leggings as my mother did at her graduation. My mother was also a single mother of three therefore, as the third generation of single mothers, I follow in the strength and power of the women in my life that came before me. Being commencement speaker is much more than me speaking before all of you; it is changing a narrative around women. We can see this movement of women taking place with the amazing leadership that is rising. I’m sure that in order for those women to succeed they had to have failed, a lot.
There have been many times when I failed at college and life but each time I had to reexamine why I was here. When looking at my major, which I changed at least three times, I was trying to find what fit me. It took a while before I arrived at my program in First Nations Studies. All of those struggles through life and school can be reminders that we need to take a step back and reevaluate our lives and our decisions to do what makes us happy. Our wellness prepares us to face anything that comes along in our lifetime. In those difficult times, we look to those individuals that help lift us up, our friends and family, through their stories and laughter.
Since attending this institution I’ve been faced with hardships from the loss of family members, of friends, of relationships that put me into some of the darkest times in my life. So much that I questioned if being here at school was the best thing for me. I could honestly say that I would never had made it without the family, friends, and faculty that were there to simply ask me, “How are you doing, is everything going alright?” The importance of my family and community on campus continued to grow through these interconnected relationships that were forming. My journey through life began to fall into alignment with the things that I had envisioned for myself. While in school I was seeing the horrible things happening in the world with my eyes unveiled but yet, with so much love, empathy, and compassion. Those characteristics I had learned through my traditional teachings but were amplified with what I was learning here.
When we’re little we’re told to go to school so we could make a difference, right? We were sent to make an impact and continue the ripple of movers and shakers that came before us. I focus on my passion and doing what I love because I want my son to do the same, as he gets older. If we’re not doing something purposeful with our lives, then maybe its time to take that step back and rethink our next move. There’s always a moment to change and create your own path.
That’s why today, I would like to share a Robin Dance song with all of you. The Robin represents renewal of life after the winter frost has gone. I find it fitting because we all are taking the next steps in our lives by graduating today. I choose to sing this song with one of my students I have been mentoring in Oneida music, language, and culture through our youth programs at the Oneida Nation Arts Program, Kaylee Schuyler.
I am continuing that ripple of changing the narrative around women and hope that all those that come after me are welcomed and find family here. Thanks to all of you who are graduating, for your brilliance and resilience. We made it!”