MISSION - Drum beats serenaded 19 Nixyaawii seniors as they processed up the aisle at their graduation ceremony Friday evening at the Wildhorse Resort & Casino.

The grads sang enthusiastically in one of the Indian languages they learned while attending Nixyaawii School, a charter school that opened its doors three years ago.

Oregon State Superintendent of Schools Susan Castillo greeted the graduates and their parents in a native tongue after some coaching before the ceremony. She stumbled over the school name, attempting it good naturedly several times before giving up.

Her final attempt, "Nicky-yow-wee" had the audience laughing.

Emcee Fred Hill assured her she was not the first person to create new pronunciations for the school name.

Castillo laughed and addressed the students more seriously.

"Your school is what a charter school should be - distinctive, rigorous and deeply connected to the community," she said Friday night.

She praised the students for striving to preserve their culture.

"You studied native languages, keeping them alive for another generation," she said. "You learned to sing the songs of your ancestors."

She urged the students to treasure the unique blessing of their community.

"Your roots here go deep - they will never wither," Castillo said. "Go out into the world and be the best you can be and never forget where you came from."

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