Jacob’s World

The realities of life on Indian reservations in KELOLAND are often harsh. 

Jacob Rosales’ life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation didn’t follow a traditional path.

“For a while I was worried, when he was small, he wouldn’t really talk. He wouldn’t talk in our language for three years,” Jacob’s mother, Marie Kleinhans, said.

In fact, despite growing up in a home where both German and English were spoken fluently, Jacob had developed a language all his own.

“For a while I was worried he isn’t that bright,” Kleinhans said.

Yet, as he would often do, Jacob proved her wrong.

“I thought he’s going to be okay because he’s so charming,” Kleinhans said.

Eventually, Jacob starting talking so his mother could understand him. And these days, it’s pretty safe to say that he is very bright. 

“He’s smart, but he’s also lucky,” Kleinhans said.

You see, this 19-year-old graduate of Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota has been accepted to Harvard, Yale, Penn, Dartmouth, Columbia, Brown, and Cornell. Seven of the eight Ivy League schools in the country. Only Princeton turned him down. Stanford University accepted him, too. 

“With each acceptance that came, I was more and more surprised and scared and excited and happy,” Rosales said.

Jacob’s smile, intellect, and humility light up the room. His eyes widen when he’s asked if he’s even surprised himself.

“Definitely, yeah,” Rosales said.

He has now left for the cross-country trip from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota to New Haven, Connecticut, where he’ll study at Yale. It’s there that one campus feature caught his eye.

“It was the, really the Native American Cultural Center there,” Rosales said.

Is he scared? He admits: yeah, a bit.

“I definitely feel rooted in this community. So, I know that I’m going to get homesick, and I know that I’m going to want to go home quite badly,” Rosales said.

Only he says he wants to become a doctor even more, so that he can come back to help his community. 

“I still do base my career goals on my role as a Lakota,” Rosales said. “I just want to give back.” 

In fact, it was his Lakota roots that helped plant the seed for his future, in the story of his grandmother who was having breathing problems on Pine Ridge.

“She didn’t get the attention she needed. They sent her home with medications she didn’t need, for whatever she had, and then it ended up being pneumonia,” Rosales said.

His mom says the seeds for success were fostered by Jacob’s teachers and friends who have provided “a loving, supporting environment” for her son.

“He was exposed to incredible teachers on his way through school,” Kleinhans said.

Rosales knows he beat the odds.

“If you look at the percentage of high schoolers who don’t make it past graduation, around these areas, you see that it’s very low,” Rosales said.

Yet he is also quick to give credit to the loving, supportive woman he calls “Mom”.

“She’s my world,” Rosales said.

“What I always tell my children is to, it’s a big world out there…but the key is education, you know, to access this world,” Kleinhans said.

So as Jacob’s non-traditional path takes him to an Ivy League world of lectures and labs far from his Lakota roots, he has already learned the most important lesson of all. 

“The acceptances, I credit a lot of that to her nurturing,” Rosales said.

When a mind like his gets the right support, the world is at your fingertips.

Rosales isn’t the only student from his class at Red Cloud Indian School to be going to the Ivy League. He has a friend who will be attending Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. 



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