Saying ‘yes’ to the job in December 2006 set academic advisor and dean of students Velma Begay on a long path with SMIS. Beginning as a 7th grade science teacher, she spent three years teaching middle school science and math, and then additional years teaching elementary and middle school science—finally transitioning into the high school teaching biology, physics, and chemistry. Now in her 13th year with the school, Velma turned toward advising students of their choices in college after high school and managing the discipline of the school.
“The best part of my work is the opportunity I have to know the students, helping them explore life, and examine their goals. As a teacher, I always focused on that day’s lesson and what they were learning on the subject matter. In this work, I am able to look at the whole picture for a student and mentor them on academic programs and introduce them to career choices,” Velma said when asked about what she enjoyed most about her role in the middle and high school.
Velma began teaching when her daughter Jessica Begay (’11)was enrolled at SMIS. “Jessica was young, and one of the benefits of working here was that I could contribute to her costs of tuition to attend—and as a family that was an important decision. At the time I started working here, I was a med student and juggling my home and school life.” Then on an IHS scholarship, Begay struggled between what she thought she wanted—to become a medical doctor, and what destiny had placed her in—education and teaching.
She recalls how she called upon God to help guide her toward the right path. “I just prayed about it,” she said as she recalls the day she made a conscious decision to stop fighting God’s plan. That guidance came in crystal clear the very next day, when then SMIS president Dr. Joseph DeFelice stopped her and, out of the blue, inquired about her plans to make the next step toward thinking about future leadership in the school. “I thought to myself, how did he think to ask me…what could have made him ask me about my plans? When I asked him about why he was asking me, he said a little birdie told him. But I never mentioned it to anyone. I knew then it was God. I think God told him in some way,” Velma stated.
Turning toward faith was something her family has instilled in her. Throughout her childhood, her mother introduced her to many different churches. None of them truly appealed to her. But now looking back, she mentioned she just didn’t feel connected to them. When asked about what felt right about her choice to become Catholic, she said: “I feel I’ve always been Catholic. When I told my dad about my decision to begin RCIA classes, he was so happy. I learned he was a baptized Catholic. At my baptism, he was very emotional, he was so proud. It was a very touching moment for us.”
Velma is one of seven children in her family—and the first to join the Catholic faith. “Since I’ve been more active in Mass now, the students seem to pay attention that I participate in communion and they ask me a lot of questions. I’m ok with that because they’re curious, and they are discovering for themselves what they may want in their own lives. I’m happy to be setting what I feel is a good example. My sponsor, Marie Allen, showed me the best way to live through her own example. She has such good energy and spirit.”
Working at a mission school, staff members experience—and are reminded of—their calling to serve. When asked about working for a mission school, Velma told a story about a time she was attending an Association for American Indian Physicians workshop, and a presenter spoke on the passion the medical profession has to be for you. She said the presenter mentioned that whatever your profession is, it has to fulfill you. I never considered this idea and when I heard that I thought, ‘Yes, that’s it!’ I carried that with me and it always stayed with me. I feel what I do now here is fulfilling. We’re a family. We disagree, have bad and good times, but the good times always outweigh the bad. I know this is more fulfilling than being a doctor. I felt in a way that God was telling me to do something else, steering me toward this,” she said.
Velma plans to retire from SMIS.