At age nine, Goldlin Wall was complacent in a remedial course surrounded by other Native American students. He felt comfortable.
Today, the Ute Mountain Ute tribal member and father of three credits his mother for inspiring him to gain more from his education.
“My mom stressed the importance of school,” he said. “She told me that our people were struggling, and she asked me, ‘Do you want to struggle with them, or do you want to try to help them?’”
Upon earning his doctoral degree from Colorado State University this spring, Wall was invited to deliver the keynote address at a Ute Mountain Ute graduation celebration on Wednesday, June 10. Nearly 45 tribal members received high school and college diplomas this year.
“I’m no different than any of you,” Wall told the recent graduates.
Grateful and honored to address the audience, Wall challenged his peers to continue pursuing their education. Stating that Natives were constantly fighting for their rights and identity, Wall said the battle ends with an education.
“A diploma is the key to your future,” he said.
As a sophomore at Colorado State University, Wall was struggling academically in a particular science class. He sought help from his professor, who told him that college wasn’t for everybody.
“I took that as a challenge,” said Wall. “I had to dig down deep.”
“We as native people, we have to claw and fight everyday, whether in the classroom or in the world,” he continued.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in 2004, Wall admitted that he didn’t have the grades to enter graduate school. He was subsequently enrolled while on academic probation, reminding his younger tribal members to make every opportunity count.
“If you get a chance, take that chance,” said Wall, who completed his master’s degree with a 4.0 grade point average. “Take advantage of any opportunity. Nobody is holding you back but you.”
In recent weeks, 27 Ute Mountain Ute tribal members have graduated from area high schools. In addition, two tribal members recently received bachelor’s degrees, and 14 earned associates, journeyman and/or certification diplomas.
Councilwoman Juanita Plentyholes challenged the recent graduates to mimic Wall’s academic pursuits. She stressed that higher education degrees were paramount in marketing themselves for competitive careers.
“As you think about your future, think about the life you want to lead,” said Plentyholes. “You’re the only one in charge of your future.”
Councilwoman Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk agreed, praising Wall’s example for the tribe. Wall is only the second Ute Mountain Ute tribal member to receive a doctoral degree.
“The bar has been raised,” said Lopez-Whiteskunk. “If you think you’ve reached the pinnacle in your life, strive for more.”
Upon learning that he was only the second tribal member to receive a doctoral degree, Wall’s immediate reaction: “We need more.”
In addition to his mother’s inspiration, Wall also thanked his wife, Bethnie, for keeping him motivated throughout his undergraduate and graduate level courses.
“You have to find people that will help you,” he said. “You have to lean on others for support.”
Asked how he balanced academics and family, Wall again praised his wife, stating she sacrificed the most. He added communication and understanding were keys to balancing his duties as a father and requirements as a student.
“It’s not always 50/50,” said Wall. “It fluctuates, and you have to be flexible.”
Bethnie Wall said she was not only proud of her husband’s academic success, but also his commitment to the family. After class, he always made time for their children, she said.
“The one thing I’ve always admired about Goldlin is that when he’s home, he’s home,” she said.
“I’m really proud of him,” she continued. “I’m proud he stuck it with it.”
Like Bethnie Wall, Lopez-Whiteskunk challenged those in attendance at the ceremony to mentor and support those striving for academic milestones. Without the tribe’s backing, the challenge to obtain an education becomes more difficult, she said.
“It requires passion to show compassion, so others can rise above their challenges,” said Lopez-Whiteskunk.
Councilman Gary Hayes piggybacked on the sentiment, reminding tribal members that dreams and aspirations were good things. He also challenged those seeking higher education degrees to maintain their confidence and self-discipline when roadblocks appear.
“Take a stand,” said Hayes. “You can’t help anybody if you can’t help yourself.”
Currently a national tribal liaison with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wall helps to support tribes across the country with various agriculture and animal issues. It’s his way to show his mother that he listened to her so many years ago.
“Push on through,” said Wall, offering the same advice to other Native students. “Keep striving to be the best you can. Everything in life isn’t easy, but you have to find a way. Fight for it.”