For most young adults, graduation from high school or college marks an important milestone. As they transition from adolescence to adulthood, they take on new roles and responsibilities. No matter what path they choose, the wisdom of grandparents will inevitably provide opportunities for growth and self-discovery.
And no graduation would be complete without friends and family coming together to celebrate. Fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents gather to honor their loved ones on this particular day. It makes it even more memorable if your grandfather travels nearly 2,000 miles to celebrate with you.
When Sasha Mulungunhaway Yambulul graduated from Worawa Aboriginal College in 2015, it marked a massive accomplishment in her life. She’d been attending the boarding school for a little over two years before graduating in year 10. Located northeast of Melbourne in Healesville, the college appeals to young Indigenous residents of Australia.
When Worawa founder Hyllus Maris founded the college in 1983, she had a clear vision in mind. She aimed to teach young Indigenous people about their culture while also educating them for the future.
Because of her well-rounded education, Sasha still feels strongly connected to her culture but remains excited about the future. Now, she “walks proudly in both worlds.”
When Sasha’s grandfather Gali Yalkarriwuy Gurruwiwi learned of her graduation, he made the nearly 2,000-mile journey to Healesville. He flew from remote Galiwin’ku on Elcho Island in northeast Arnhem Land, where Sasha also lives when she isn’t in school.
He doesn’t speak much English, mostly speaking in the mother tongue of the Galpu clan. However, when he touched his heart and said “proud” after arriving in Healesville, it spoke volumes about his feelings toward his granddaughter.
Indigenous Man Travels 2,000 Miles for Granddaughter’s Graduation
His wife Jane Garrutju translated for him, saying that he dreamed of dancing with his granddaughters at their graduation someday. Eventually, he saw this dream come true. When Gali spoke about his grandchildren Sasha and Alicia, he said he felt happy they received a good education. And he felt proud of their achievements as well.
Known as the Morning Star dancer, Gali served his tribe as the Yolngu Mala leader. While he did not keep track of his age, he never felt too old to perform a traditional dance! Even though he felt unwell on Sasha’s graduation day, he still insisted on partaking in a particular group dance with his two granddaughters.
The traditional dance is called Lunggurrma, or north wind involves a feathered ceremonial morning star pole known as Banumbirr. Sasha said that when people visit Elcho Island, they always perform the traditional dance with their grandpa. She never tires of dancing with her elders, and her graduation day made it even more special.
Despite graduating from college, Sasha will always have strong roots back home. Plus, her time in college only deepened her love and appreciation for her culture since it caters to Indigenous Australians.
Sasha said she enjoys hunting, fishing, and searching for mangrove worms and oysters at home. She also holds the traditional dances close to her heart and shares the stories of her grandparents at night around campfires. She does miss home when she’s away at boarding school. But the Indigenous teachings made her feel less homesick.
She speaks three Indigenous languages and learned even more from different cultures during her college years. Sasha’s absence wasn’t easy for her loved ones, but her grandmother said the family wanted Sasha to have plentiful opportunities. The sacrifice was worth it for Sasha to have a bright future.
Sasha Makes the Best of Both Worlds–The Modern World and That of Her Grandparents
Gali made sure his grandchildren valued their culture and know where they come from. Jane said they view their culture as sacred, just like the land and sea. Knowing who they are while embracing Western ideas will help them become balanced in life.
Sadly, Gali passed away in 2020 at approximately 80 years old. However, Sasha will always revere and remember her grandfather because of his love for traditions. He was an internationally acclaimed artist whose Morning Star poles had been featured in exhibitions worldwide.
He inherited the sacred knowledge of the Banumbirr tradition from his father, the last surviving clan member who possessed this wisdom. Gali made sure to keep his culture alive by performing sacred dances with the traditional Morning Star poles. The feather tassels hanging down from the wooden stick represent the various clans that practice the Banumbirr tradition. The tuft of feathers represents the Morning Star itself, a sacred aspect of the Galpu culture.
Sasha learned from the best since she values her culture but remains open to other perspectives. She hopes to complete years 11 and 12 at Clontarf Aboriginal College in WA. Then, she dreams of becoming a nurse and will serve her community along with Melbourne.
In addition, she wants to keep her cultural ties strong and hopes to teach others about them. Above all, Sasha aims to show other young Indigenous girls that they can branch out and become whatever they choose. However, that doesn’t mean they have to give up their values and culture in the process.
Perhaps we need only to remember our roots to find balance. By knowing where we came from and from the stories of our grandparents, we can understand where we’re going on a deeper level.
Final Thoughts on Man Who Traveled 2,000 Miles for Granddaughter’s Graduation
When your granddaughter graduates, you hope to be there for her special day. However, when you live in a remote area of Australia, traveling thousands of miles for graduation isn’t easy. Like most grandparents, Gali Yalkarriwuy Gurruwiwi wouldn’t miss his granddaughter Sasha’s big day for anything. He traveled nearly 2,000 miles to watch her walk across the stage and perform a sacred dance at the ceremony.
Sasha worked hard for her diploma and was thrilled to see her grandfather in the audience. While he passed away in 2020, his love, respect for Galpu culture, and wisdom will live on forever.