CWC’s student of the year, Brian Roanhorse. Submitted photos.
Five years ago, Brian Roanhorse was watching a movie – “It was ‘Hell or High Water,’ of all movies,” he recalls. “It just came into my head: ‘Maybe I should do this.’”
Roanhorse, a huge movie buff, knew it would be tough to pay off his old debts and re-enroll at Central Wyoming College (CWC), but that’s just what he did. Today, he’s not only finishing up his last year in the CWC film studies program, but was recently named the college’s Student of the Year for his efforts.
It’s not Roanhorse’s first go at college. He initially studied under CWC’s automotive program, intending to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. But life as a youngster was a little crazy back then, he said, and he dropped out and focused on work. He’s been a community health outreach worker for Eastern Shoshone Tribal Health since 2011, and currently balances both school and work in his 30s.
It’s a different experience for him this time, Roanhorse explained. “It’s really different going to school when you’re older,” he said. “You appreciate it more.”
His first semester back was probably the hardest; ineligible for scholarships or financial aid, he was paying out-of-pocket for all his classes. Now, he’s landed some scholarships and it’s meant things are a little less stressful, financially, though he’s still got two full-time gigs on his plate.
Roanhorse said he’s thankful for all the support from the faculty and staff at CWC, and credits his mom as helping to push him to further his education. She’s also a CWC graduate in the accounting program, but like Brian, her college years came a little later in life. “She always wanted to go to school ever since she was a teenager,” Brian explained. “But she had me. I’m the oldest of five … She had to put us first, so she started working from an early age.” Brian and his siblings watched as their mom worked to get through college; now she heads up the housing program in Fort Washakie. “She’s always supported us and wanted us to do our best,” Brian shared.
CWC Associate Professor of Film Jeremy Nielsen lauded Roanhorse’s exhaustive knowledge of movies. “He’s seen a ton. When asked ‘Who’s seen this?’ he always has. This is an excellent baseline for his own work as well and an example of his inherent interest in the medium itself,” Nielsen explained. “Second, he’s very even keeled. Sometimes making moves can be very stressful and overwhelming. I have never seen Brian unable to manage his situation and he is always smiling, inquisitive and curious, even when the going gets difficult. This makes for a great student and an even better filmmaker.”
Roanhorse knows the film industry isn’t for the faint of heart, and working on a set can mean 12 or 16 hour days. “It’s a tough business for sure,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind that. I would love to find the struggle that I’m comfortable with and that would be it.”
A tough industry ahead doesn’t scare the CWC student after mastering full-time work and school together. “Sometimes I get a little behind on school work and sometimes I get behind on work work, but it’s never both,” he said. “It’s just a balancing act. It’s a challenge that I’ve tried to embrace. I’ve not had a lot of challenges like that where I’ve really pushed myself. It’s really motivating.”
Roanhorse’s plan is to enroll in a university after graduating from CWC with his associate’s degree, then work in the film industry, either filming or writing. “Something about movies just transports me to a different place,” he said – recalling watching his grandfather’s film collection as a kid and being able to escape to any time or place imaginable. He wants to share that with others.
And Roanhorse said no matter where you are in life, it’s never too late to dream big. “It’s not a race,” he said. “As you get older you start to realize different things. That was my case – as I got older, I realized that life just moves differently for people, and what might not be working now could work in the future for you.”