Success comes at your own pace. Yuntlekalau Mamie McLester, Satuday’s graduating class speaker, knows this well. As a non-traditional student, mother and mentor, McLester forged a path toward earning her degree that was neither fast nor easy, but is indeed her own. UW-Green Bay is the fifth and final college she’s attended on her path to completing an undergraduate degree. Along the way, she’s found the importance in one’s passion should be encompassed within earning a degree.
Her unique journey toward obtaining this diploma today included asserting her passions, finding belonging in the right program, having a valuable sense of community on campus and starting a family. Originally from Oneida, Wisconsin, McLester is of the People of the Standing Stone and she’s of the Wolf Clan.
McLester graduates today with a Bachelor of Arts in First Nations, a minor in environmental science and a certificate in Environmental Management and Business. She was nominated to serve as Commencement Speaker by John Arendt, Forrest Brooks, Carol Cornelius, Elizabeth Wheat, JP Leary, Lisa Poupart, Rosa Serrano, Karen Stahlheber, Alison Staudinger and David Turney.
Described as a powerful Haudenosaunee woman, she embodies the work of her ancestors as a positive campus leader. Her contributions to the upward mobility of student successes include but are not limited to serving as a peer mentor in the Gateway to Phoenix Success program, leading the Intertribal Student Council, assistant teaching undergraduate students Ethnohistory with Carol Cornelius. Her strength in helping others comes from being an active community member and a mother. As a student she attended the Wisconsin Sustainability in Business Conference, was a presenter at the Widening the Circle Conference, and presenter at the Wisconsin Indian Education Association. She continues to advocate for wellness and social change in underrepresented communities.
This past year, as an intern at the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council’s Native American Research Center on Health, McLester looked into policies and practices that colleges and universities could adopt to help foster greater academic success and better overall wellness for Native American students. McLester served as the student representative on the search and screen committee for the Native American Student Success Coordinator for the UW System, and was the only student from across Wisconsin selected to do so. The work she completed through her internship leaves an important legacy for other Native students who attend UW-Green Bay.
McLester credits UW-Green Bay faculty and fellow students for encouraging her to get involved and to use her voice to encourage the real conversations about inclusion and diversity that are so important in Wisconsin and beyond.
“Ms. McLester works collaboratively across all social groups to build consensus and promote inclusion,” wrote Associate Prof. Lisa Poupart in her letter of recommendation. “Her strengths are many and include strong intellectual abilities, excellent oral communication and presentation skills. She is an authentic ally in action to members of oppressed social groups including people of color and the LGBTQ communities. She is always working to understand her own privilege and challenges those around her to grow and do the same. Her approach to challenging others is effective and firmly rooted in respect.”
Upon graduation, McLester will be applying her education at the Oneida Cultural Heritage department as a language and culture trainee. She was recruited by the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin to serve as an Indigenous language apprentice, where she will be applying for acceptance into an adult immersion program in Ontario.