The Navajo tribe had come into federal education money for veterans and was recruiting Navajos who might go to college. Begay was plucked from the Shiprock community and tribal officials decided he would study mechanical engineering. He hitchhiked to Albuquerque and enrolled in the University of New Mexico on the strength of his BIA farming certificate and a promise that he would go to high-school classes at night. English classes were troublesome for Begay, but he easily learned German, which is similar in structure to Navajo, and he quickly picked up science and math concepts. At the urging of professors, Begay changed his major to physics and graduated in 1961, still lacking a high-school diploma. Begay left UNM in 1971 with seven children, a pickup truck and a doctorate in nuclear physics. He headed for a job at Los Alamos.
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