“If I can inspire one person to go for it, I’ve done my job.” – Sharen Kicking Woman, as she heads for Stanford University
Look out California, Sharen Kicking Woman is on her way down to Stanford. Missoulian reporter Chelsi Moy shared Kicking Woman’s full story:
As a seventh-grader, Sharen Kicking Woman remembers watching the crowning of Miss Blackfeet during Browning’s North American Indian Days in awe and amazement.
“She was a student at Duke (University),” Kicking Woman said. “I never thought real people went to these schools.”
Now, as the reigning 2011 Miss Blackfeet and a Loyola Sacred Heart High School graduate bound for Stanford University in the fall, Kicking Woman hopes that she, too, can inspire the next generation of Indian girls.
“If I can inspire one person to go for it, I’ve done my job,” said the 17-year-old Missoula native.
As Kicking Woman travels to California in September, she knows that she’s representing more than herself. She’s representing her tribe, her family and all Native American people.
She doesn’t know many Native students before her who left the state to attend a prestigious school like Stanford, “but they can if they realize a lot more Native kids could be doing things like this,” she said.
Kicking Woman smiles with her whole face as she talks about traveling to powwows every weekend during the summer, jingle dancing and her family members who reside on the reservation. Her mother is from Fort Belknap. Her father is from Browning. She is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe.
Kicking Woman refers to Browning as home, even though she’s never lived there. Rather, she grew up in Missoula, attending Target Range Elementary and then Loyola Sacred Heart High School. Her mother, a state social worker, and her father, who returned to college a year ago to finish his bachelor’s degree and is now working on a master’s, made sacrifices so their children could live in Missoula and attend private school. For that, Kicking Woman is grateful.
She served as Junior Miss Blackfeet in 2006. The title of Miss Blackfeet has gone in recent years to older girls, often in college. The contestants are judged on their talent, tribal knowledge, communication skills and traditional dancing.
Although she knows that it irks some tribal members that she holds the title but lives off the reservation, Kicking Woman saw the Miss Blackfeet competition as a way to reach youth and to spread the word about the importance of education. She identifies with tribal culture and visits her family on both reservations often.
Kicking Woman also was named Montana Indian Education Association Student of the Year.
Although she graduated from Loyola with a 4.0 grade point average, she was not valedictorian.
“There are so many smart kids here,” she said.
When it came time to apply for colleges, Kicking Woman sent applications to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Dartmouth, Gonzaga, Duke and the University of Michigan. She was granted admittance to all.
Academic programs never entered into her mind when deciding where to attend. Kicking Woman knew all of the schools offered good educations. Rather, she looked at Native American student enrollment and the services the school’s provided as a major factor.
“I wanted to go somewhere where I knew I would graduate in four years,” she said. “Some people think that Indians will want to come home. I wanted to go somewhere where I knew I wanted to stay.”
Her choice was Stanford University, where she will attend on a full-ride scholarship, thanks to the Gates Millennium Scholars Program. Through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the program offers 1,000 scholarships to students nationwide each year. It covers all college expenses through graduation.
Kicking Woman knows a little about living away from home. When she served as a page for Montana’s U.S. Sen. Jon Tester during the spring of 2011, she lived in Washington, D.C., for three months.
“I fell in love with the government,” said Kicking Woman, who will pursue a degree in political science with the goal of applying for law school. “I loved every second I was in D.C. I vowed to return.”
Sure there were times when she was homesick and wanted to pack her bags to return to Montana. But what she took away from that experience, and where that lesson will come in handy in the coming months as she moves to California to begin her college careers, is that “no matter what, everything will be OK,” she said. “It’s all worth it. I know it will be hard, but I’m looking forward to something new.”