Cherokee chief talks about grit, friends, faith with chancellor’s list students

Richard Sneed, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, meets with WCU student Autumn Bryson of Sylva during a reception that followed Sneed’s presentation to the university’s chancellor’s list students.

The principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians provided three nuggets of advice for leading a successful life as he delivered a keynote address before a group of Western Carolina University’s highest-achieving students Tuesday (Feb. 13.)

Richard Sneed, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who formerly taught at Cherokee High School, visited the WCU campus to speak to students being recognized for superior academic performance that resulted in them being included on the university’s chancellor’s list for last fall, a designation requiring a GPA of 3.8 or better. The ceremony in the performance hall of the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center also was attended by the students’ faculty mentors, families and friends.

Sneed prefaced his remarks by telling the students that parents continually try to impart advice to their children to make life’s road easier for them, and the young offspring generally have trouble accepting that advice, as he did when he was younger. But, as youth get older, they discover that the pearls of wisdom from their parents are true, he said.

“It is our desire to see you be successful in all that you do,” Sneed said. “Life is hard. There are going to be some things that happen in your life that will blindside you. I want to talk to you about some things you are going to need – that every one of us needs – to be successful in this life.”

“First and foremost, you’re going to need true grit,” he said. “I believe this group in front of me this afternoon has true grit. I don’t believe you would be here this afternoon if you didn’t have some grit.”

Sneed said he believes the only way to obtain grit, plus the accompanying traits of character and perseverance, is through suffering. “As human beings, we take every opportunity to avoid suffering,” he said. “I wish there was another way to obtain grit, character and perseverance, but the truth is that most growth potential is found in the midst of suffering.

Students from Cherokee Elementary School perform the “War Dance” for the audience at the chancellor’s list event.

“The upside is, the more you go through, the stronger you become and the more wisdom you have,” Sneed said. “And, here’s the best part – the more grace you will have for other people. Suffering can make you a better person, if you let it, or it will make you bitter, if you let it.”

Sneed urged the WCU students also to take away from the event two other thoughts – that they are going to need some “true friends” in their lives, and that everyone needs to “believe in something, or someone, greater than themselves.”

“If you’re going to make it, you’re going to need some true friends,” he said. “True friends are hard to come by. Friends matter because who we surround ourselves with determines who we become as people. Who you hang out with matters.”

On the topic of belief, Sneed said, “We each have ideas or beliefs or a person that we identify with, or that our identity is completely wrapped up in. We must have one greater than ourselves in which our hope and faith rest.

“So, there you have your marching orders,” he said to the students. “Go forth, persevere, endure hardship and find meaning in suffering. In the midst of your suffering, take the hand of your brother or sister with one hand and take the hand of one greater than yourself in the other.”

In her remarks, WCU’s acting chancellor, Alison Morrison-Shetlar, congratulated the honored students and said they are “role models as university citizens and demonstrate their commitment to academic and personal excellence. It is an honor and a privilege to stand here today and recognize each of you for your commitment to excellence and your hard work,” she said.

A total of 1,395 WCU students were named to the chancellor’s list for fall semester 2017.

WCU’s acting provost, Carol Burton, introduced Sneed and reminded the audience that WCU’s interdisciplinary learning theme for the current academic year is “Cherokee: Community. Culture. Connections.”

“The heritage and traditions of a proud people permeate the very ground upon which our university exists,” Burton said. The theme provides an opportunity to explore and enhance the university’s relationship with the Eastern Band, but “most importantly, it provides the space to educate our students, faculty and staff about the Cherokee and the significance of this beautiful place we call home,” she said.

The event also included a performance of three traditional Cherokee dances by a group of children from Cherokee Elementary School, under the direction of Diane Driver.

A reception was held in the Star Lobby of the Bardo Arts Center following the formal program. Guests had a chance to tour an exhibit of works by WCU alumni, including Cherokee alumni, that is on display in the university’s Fine Art Museum.