Sometimes little moments or decisions can change the trajectory of a life completely. For Autumn Adams, it was noticing a Central Washington University booth at the Ellensburg Rodeo a few years ago.
On a trip up to Ellensburg with her aunt and two siblings, Adams got roped into a conversation with someone at the booth.
“I usually walk right by, but not that time,” Adams said. “I was under the impression I couldn’t apply because it was halfway through fall quarter, but Central and the people working there let me know they accepted applications year round.”
They encouraged her and showed her how to apply, the only problem was her GPA wasn’t the best due to her turbulent high school career.
A couple years after being reunited with her mother, her mother relapsed and started drinking and using drugs again. Taking care of her siblings, Adams was missing quite a bit of school, or constantly late.
“A lot of it was just dealing with her behaviors,” Adams said.
After her high school yearbook teacher helped her edit and craft her personal statement, she was accepted into CWU, but not before more challenging news arose.
Adams’ aunt, who had been taking care of Adam’s younger siblings had been battling cancer for six years. It was thought to be in remission, but with news of it coming back stronger, she could no longer look after them.
So two weeks before the start of her first fall quarter, 19-year-old Adams’ took custody of her younger sister.
“My grandma took my brother just because I wasn’t sure if I could handle two kids quite frankly,” Adams said. “I kind of wanted to ease into it. My younger sister I have practically raised since she was an infant already, and so it made sense at the time.”
Raising a family
Eventually she took custody of both siblings, who today are ages 14 and 10. In order to work, go to school and raise two children, Adams keeps a strict schedule — when the kids are in school, she’s in school. When the kids are at home, she’s at home.
“Maintaining that boundary between the roles I have to fill, that’s what allowed us to grow into who we are, and allowed me to graduate on Saturday.”
Her typical day starts at 6:15 a.m., her first task probably the hardest challenge of all — waking up a teenage boy.
“My brother is horrible at waking up on time for the bus,” she said with a laugh. “Even though I wake him up starting at 6:30, he tends to fall back asleep in the weirdest places… but I’ve been told that’s a typical teenage boy thing.”
She then wakes up her sister, who has long, thick black hair, which is Adams’ task to manage before she sends her off on the bus.
“It’s just insane if we don’t fix it every day, so I usually have to spend 45 minutes getting her hair manageable,” Adams said. “By that point it’s usually 7:30-7:45 when the bus comes.”
Her sister loves riding the bus, but her brother has a habit of missing it. After dropping him off at school, Adams starts her academic day around 8:30 a.m., finishing up homework before she starts her class load at 11 a.m.
“’Ill be in classes until 3, and then I’m home by 3:30 at the latest, when they get off the bus,” she said. “I do a lot of my homework in the mornings, and in my classes if the lecture is a little dry I’ll do some assignments as well. I implore all the not-so-great skills I’ve developed.”
While her college lifestyle is definitely non-traditional, it’s a lot more similar to other students than one might think. She’s graduating after 4 1/2 years with a degree in anthropology and minors in American Indian studies and museum studies.
For money, Adams found early on she had a gift writing scholarship applications. Between scholarships, financial aid and working part-time during the year and full-time during the summer, she’s been able to put her way through school. Over the years she’s worked at the Wanapum Heritiage Center, the museum on campus and as an archaeology tech for her own tribe.
That has led her to an opportunity for a full-time job out of her hometown in Toppenish, which she starts later this month. Being able to combine her interest in anthropology with her passion for her Native American heritage is an exciting prospect for the newly-minted college graduate.
“I’m very lucky to be graduating with a full-time job available for me already in my field,” she said.
The last five years have been an uphill battle for Adams. She said navigating institutional racism and backlash because of her heritage has been difficult, and said through that she always tries to be true to herself. But through that, she feels that if she could graduate from Central, she could take on anything.
Her future plans include using the next year to apply to law school.