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Student Highlight January 2021

Ya’at’eeh, I am Erika Yellowhair from the Navajo Nation. I am currently studying Elementary Education and hope to return home to my school district with my PhD in Educational Leadership to become the superintendent and a member of the Navajo Nation Board of Education.


I’m from Sonastee, New Mexico. I lived in a one-bedroom house with seven of my relatives. There wasn’t cell phone service. I didn’t have any drawers and kept my clothes in a tote and drove an hour to get back and forth from school. I always thought this was a normal way of life but I’ve since realized it’s not, but I wouldn’t change how I lived. Money has never been something I’ve had a lot of. Growing up my family and I were comfortable, but we were not well off. My dad worked as a supervisor in a construction company and when the 2008 housing market crashed in Phoenix my family lost our house and we were forced to go home to Sonastee where my parents have struggled with work ever since. My mom eventually took a job as a teacher and has worked as an educator since. We’ve been homeless many times but I looked at it as a normal thing. We’ve lived with family almost all my life and even now my parents and my siblings don’t currently have a place to live.


This may make my parents seem idle, but they are two of the most hard-working people I know. They’ve never been without a job and have always provided for my siblings and I’s needs. It was these obstacles that helped my parents realize that they needed to go back to school. My mom is going to grad school for Special Education and my dad is in his last year of his civil engineering program at the University of Utah.


Money is not the only obstacle I’ve had to face coming to school. When I first started college, I was originally in a major that I was not prepared for. It was hard to do the work that some students had already been doing for a year in high school and I was catching up and learning new material along with them. It soon became apparent that it was not my major not only because my grades did not reflect my work ethic, but it would not lead me to my overall goal of becoming a superintendent.


I left BYU for a year to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and while on my mission I experienced many hard things, one being many health concerns, but I continued to work as hard as my body would allow. I was eventually sent home early due to my increasing health concerns. My first semester back at BYU I had clarity on what I wanted to do and the necessary steps to get there. However, my new health concerns were something I was still learning to manage. I was finally diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis because they had yet to determine the specific type of arthritis I have. This health condition can be very hard to manage when first diagnosed for many people as it was for me. It can also come with other health concerns. There were times throughout the semester I was unable to physically get out of bed and had to have a lot of help from others. Being 20 and having to use a cane to walk everywhere can be a humbling experience and for some it may be detrimental, but I tried as best as I could, but it was not at a level I’m proud of. I had to drop a class and was always late, if I showed up at all, to my morning classes because I’d wake up stiff from my arthritis. I knew I had to change my life as a student to match my new obstacles and by winter semester I had eliminated some of my stressors from my routine such as my job and clubs.


Having all these circumstances may make it seem like I have had a hard life and I wouldn’t argue, but to say I haven’t learned something from each challenge life has brought would be untrue. It is your help and donation that gives me hope in hopeless times. This year will be hard on my family and I without a doubt. Any financial support I receive is truly an honor and I will continue to work as hard as I can to be worthy of it. I thank you for all your support. I will pay it forward to those I help in my future profession and my family as well.



– Erika Yellowhair





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