Alumna’s journey inspires her native community

During her time at Seattle Central, recent UW graduate Sharayah Lane found new perspective and realized the value of her own voice.

Growing up in her tribal community, Sharayah Lane never expected to go to college. So when she finally graduated from the University of Washington after transferring from Seattle Central College, there was cause for celebration.

This achievement was not hers alone, but a triumph for her Lummi community who cheered her on at a special commencement ceremony with Native American students in June. There, she spoke in front of family and friends about her journey to become the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree – a feat that once seemed impossible.

“I knew I should be in school but that was as far as it went,” Sharayah said. “From the first day that I walked into Seattle Central, I was completely changed.”

Growing up surrounded by poverty and addiction led Sharayah to turn to alcohol to cope. During her youth on the Lummi reservation near Lummi Island, she spent time in jail and dropped out of tribal school in the 10th grade.

Despite her rough childhood, she always knew she had potential. As a young adult, she felt moving to a new area – Seattle – would help get her life on track. Shortly after she arrived and while still working to become sober, Sharayah enrolled at Seattle Central.

“When I started school, I got interested in new ideas – like social justice,” Sharayah said. “Understanding the systemic issues that affected me growing up better prepared me to combat them.”

Though she briefly left school to kick her addiction for good, she was determined to finish her associate transfer degree. When she returned, she came with a new sense of purpose. She enrolled in TRiO, a student support program; connected with classmates at Student of Color Conference; got a job with Student Leadership; and served on committees that influenced the direction of the college.

“I found my voice here. Getting involved let me know that I have a place at the table. I can offer a unique perspective that needs to be heard,” Sharayah said.

When Sharayah transferred to the UW, she carried that same spirit of service with her. She formed the Transfer Student Alliance to help transfer students build community and advocate for a more welcoming campus.

She plans to return to the UW in 2017 to pursue a master’s degree in Public Administration and hopes to represent her Native community in the policy-making process. While she calls Seattle home, she still connects with her Lummi community, inspiring others to follow her example.

“My education doesn’t mean anything if I’m not sharing it with others. I’ve seen the impact my journey has had for my little nieces and cousins back home who now expect to go to college,” she said.