Lauren Shelly Pina, San Carlos Apache, former UNITY 25 Under 25 honoree, shared inspiring words last month during Suicide Prevention Month at the Life is Precious Conference in San Carlos, Arizona. Pina spoke about her journey to Penn State University, where she’s a student. “I knew I wanted to be an engineer since junior high. During my senior year, I was accepted into 20 colleges. I knew I wanted to get off the reservation. My mom encouraged me. She said there’s more to see off the reservation and you can always come back. I was raised hearing ‘the sky is the limit and there’s so much more to life.’ I wanted to explore the world and I didn’t regret it one bit,” said Pina.
The conference, sponsored by the San Carlos Apache Tribe’s Wellness Center, focused on efforts to address suicide. In a one-year period, as many as 12 people had committed suicide on the reservation. Pina’s message shed light on college students who must make the difficult transition from reservation life to college life. “I was in for a big culture shock. I found out I was the only Native American on campus. I had no friends whatsoever. My freshman year was really rough. I didn’t feel I prepared myself enough. I had to get used to being away from home. It wasn’t until I joined Alpha Phi Omega, I opened up and made friends.” Alpha Phi Omega is a national co-ed service fraternity organized to provide community service, leadership development, and social opportunities for college students.
When students found out she was Native American, their questions surprised her. “Do you still live in teepees and stuff like that. It was really interesting.” She encouraged people of all ages to look for inner strength when facing challenges. “It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to feel down. It’s ok to be scared. It’s ok to question yourself everyday. You should never give up. Giving up should never be ok,” said Pina. “We are human. We make mistakes. Live your life fully. Accept yourself for who you are. Love yourself. Be kind to yourself. Real happiness lies in gratitude. So be grateful to be alive and live every moment. Life on this earth is a gift so you must take advantage of it. Everyone has a mountain to climb. You can conquer and you will conquer. Keep your head held high. Talk to someone or find a way to cope with depression, like exercise or hanging out with your friends. Letting go is really hard. I’ve had to deal with it myself. It really makes you stronger than you think. Suicide is never the answer.”