University presents degree to original Navajo code talker

Sixty years after he last enrolled in a class at the University, Chester Nez, the last living member of the original 29 Navajo code talkers who served during World War II, received his diploma Monday morning. Nez studied at the University for three years under the GI Bill until his funding ran out in 1952.

“Getting that sheep skin is a wonderful thing that’s happened,” Nez said, referring to the degree. “It’s something that I’ve been looking forward to, and it’s finally happened.”

During a ceremony held in Lied Center Pavilion, Danny Anderson, dean of liberal arts and sciences, presented Nez with his degree in fine arts. Anderson praised Nez’s dedication to education and his military service before conferring Nez with a diploma.

“It is unfortunate that KU was unable to help Mr. Nez complete his degree sixty years ago,” Anderson said. “We have a new approach to scholarship support now that will enable us to help students with financial challenges to complete their degrees.”

Mike Austin, a graduate student from Lawrence, was glad to participate in the ceremony celebrating educational opportunity for minorities by leading the singing of the national anthem and alma mater.

“Conferring the degree symbolizes the shift in attitude towards more equality,” Austin said. “It shows how far we’ve come.”

Degrees are rarely conferred on former students without all of their coursework being completed, said Sarah Rosen, vice provost of academic affairs. But after a month long process, the faculty senate approved the degree based on Nez’s coursework completed, extenuating financial circumstances and talents as a code talker demonstrated during World War II, Rosen said.

Nez’s situation was first brought to the attention of the University by Kansas First Lady Mary Brownback after meeting Nez at the Kansas Book Festival in September.

“Some of his education occurred out of the classroom, and I think it sends a message about how we honor our vets,” Brownback said. “And KU recognizes that.”

Marshall Schmidt is a graduate student majoring in biomedical engineering from Mount Hope. Read more from .

  • Updated Nov. 12, 2012 at 10:27 pm
  • Edited by Hannah Wise