Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. was celebrated during a reception in his honor in recognition of his receiving an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Northern Arizona University on Dec. 16.

Nearly 150 friends and supporters turned out at the celebration in Window Rock last month to show appreciation for Shirley’s 37 years of public service and his support and encouragement of education as a way to elevate Navajos and the Navajo Nation.

“These are my new colors,” Shirley said as he took the stage in the Diné Education Center auditorium wearing his black academic gown, white satin sash and the blue and gold hood of NAU around his neck.

Deborah Dennison-Jackson, superintendent of the Ganado Unified School District, credited Shirley for his experience and work that led to this recognition. “It’s something very few people can earn, and you earned it,” she said.

Shirley said receiving the honorary doctorate from NAU meant that much more to him because his late daughter, Tona Vee Shirley-Paymella, had earned her bachelor’s degree from NAU and was working on her master’s degree at the time she was killed by a drunken driver.

“I’m very appreciative to President John Haeger and the Arizona Board of Regents for conferring the honorary doctorate on me,” he said.