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In remembrance of Michael Begaye

Peers remember executive director of AISSS for his impact on the Indigenous community at ASU


Michael Begaye, executive director of American Indian Student Support Services, poses for a photo on the ASU's Tempe campus in Tempe, Arizona, on Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014.

The executive director of American Indian Student Support Services, Michael Begaye, died on Nov. 2 after being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in August.   

According to his colleagues, Begaye often worked directly with students who needed help organizing events for Native American students and was a resource for many students on campus, American Indian or not.

Among these events was the American Indian Convocation, which Laura Gonzales-Macias, Associate Director of AISSS and Begaye’s “right hand,” said he took joy in organizing.

"Once he got his turquoise and his suit on, we knew it was time to celebrate and time to produce," she said.

Begaye also oversaw the Student Preparedness Initiative: Readiness Inspired by Tradition, or SPIRIT.

SPIRIT is a program that allows incoming freshman students the opportunity to move into the dorms early in order to receive assistance in adjusting to college expectations, living on campus and finding mentors to follow throughout their university careers. 

Additionally, the program also offers Native American cultural events for students to attend and make new connections.

Begaye sent weekly emails to AISSS students highlighting what was in store for the week, from scholarship opportunities to fun events for Native American students.

Gonzales-Macias said that while education was one of Begaye's top priorities, his ability to create a home for Indigenous students at ASU is what many will remember him for. 

Macias said Begaye came into AISSS every morning smiling and relaxed and that “he was very positive, (and) he had a positive energy.”

Macias said Begaye was a true storyteller and that what he will leave behind is the way he made people feel.

“There’s some quote that says people won’t remember the information, they’ll remember how you made them feel. He made people feel good about themselves and that he was listening,” she said.

She said his passing during Native American Heritage Month was difficult, but “it’s the best time to recognize his accomplishments.”

Duane Roen, dean of the University College, which AISSS falls under, said he grew close with Begaye over the many years the two worked together.

“Michael was a delightful human being in all sorts of ways,” he said. “He was deeply committed to his community, to his family, and he worked hard at making certain that students have all of the resources that his office could possibly provide.”

Roen said one of the biggest things that stood out to him about Begaye was his desire to help students use insights and tools from their community and culture and apply them to school.

“He kept reminding students of the values of their communities and how those values could help them be successful at ASU,” he said.

Roen said Begaye's warm disposition extended beyond those he worked with directly.

“He was always warm in his interactions with students and colleagues, and he was supportive of everybody – not just people in his unit at AISSS, but everybody he worked with,” Roen said. 

While he played a pivotal role in supporting and welcoming the American Indian community, he said Begaye had a light-hearted sense of humor.

“I often heard him joke with people, and he would use humor to put life in perspective,” Roen said.

He said that Begaye also always had a sense that he wanted to stay humble and be of service to students and colleagues alike.

“He knew that we all needed to take our jobs seriously, but we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, and that we’re all here to serve other people,” Roen said. “And he took that commitment very seriously.”

Tashina Scott, a junior studying microbiology and a friend of Begaye’s daughter, said Begaye always made people feel heard. Scott said she bonded with Begaye over their shared Navajo kinship, or their “K’é.”

“He was a very patient, kind, understanding individual,” she said. “... I recognize him as a family member, my uncle on campus."

Roen said Begaye's warmth on campus will be missed by many. 

“A lot of people are going to miss him dearly because he made a positive difference in other people's lives and he took pride in that," he said. "That leaves a big hole with him not here” 

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