Lester Merrill, a student at the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College St. Croix Outreach Site, was recently awarded the first Gay I. & Harry C. Leslie III Scholarship, a scholarship intended to provide need-based financial support to Native American undergraduate students so they can obtain a quality education. This merit-based scholarship will awarded in each of the fall and spring semesters.
Lester shares the impact of this scholarship on his education:
This scholarship and its award means financial help, self-fulfillment and the reminder of what true generosity entails. This at a time in which the pursuits of my dreams have finally become the center of my pursuits in life. I am older than the normal student working towards attaining a degree and personally know through experience the many afflictions Native persons face. It has taken me a long time to realize the importance and how fundamental a degree is when you wish to provide an education to others.
I wake up each day and am thankful for the ability to focus my attentions on my own fulfillment and not self-destruction. This fulfillment will come from being able to contribute to keeping Ojibwe tradition, language and customs a part of life for Ojibwe people and their children. So this is not a selfish journey, I eventually would like to pass on any knowledge I attain to future generations. The diversity and many barriers I have overcome has been with the help of supportive people who have shown true selflessness and integrity. If I can provide this to future generations then the fulfillment I seek will be attained. I am a lifelong student, future teacher, and possessor of Ojibwe knowledge and will provide this for anyone who would like to learn. I realized in my pursuits regarding the Ojibwe philosophy that the knowledge, wisdom and other attributes we seek and then provide should be felt for many generations in the future.
In view of the Leslie family and their generosity by paying it forward is a basis and one of the cornerstones of the ceremonies of Ojibwe customs. A man’s wealth is certainly not measured by the material things or monetarily, but by the health and the prosperity of those around him. The ceremonies mentioned always pertain to an offering in some way. The humility and the kindness that these traditions provide are exactly more of what this world needs. I certainly see how the generosity and the acts of kindness of the Leslie family are truly rewarding not only for them but for those this scholarship helps. Those influences and examples the acts of kindness demonstrated by the Leslie family will be felt for a very long time. Diversity and barriers are certainly a part of growth and development of any student. This scholarship simply softens the blow of those barriers or any hardship that may come about. Whatever barriers may arise or adversity that is remembered either by choice or by chance will be easier to bear with the help of people like the Leslie family.
As a it would help to break or at least damage a barrier that may come about in pursuit of my degree and ultimately a better way of life. The help this scholarship provides does that. It also affirms a pure example of kindness, generosity and integrity we should all strive for. These are the basis for many Ojibwe customs and therefore what the Ojibwe people stand for.
Lester is on track to graduate spring of 2019 and was recently honored at the St. Croix graduate honoring banquet.