Change of venue works for UNM-LA graduation ceremony

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By Carol A. Clark

A stream of smiling graduates graced the colorful stage at Duane Smith Auditorium during the UNM-Los Alamos 2009 Commencement Ceremony Friday evening.

To avoid the heat, rain and wind that has plagued graduation ceremonies in the college kiva, Executive Director Cedric Page suggested a change of venue that worked out well by all accounts.

Manager Ross Mason has updated the auditorium, which provided a beautiful backdrop to Friday’s auspicious event. Large floral arrangements adorned the stage and pastel colored lighting glowed dramatically along the walls.

The graduates, their families and friends clearly enjoyed the pleasing ambiance.    

The ceremony featured a number of inspirational speeches including the commencement address by Susan Herrera, Chief Executive Officer of The LANL Foundation.

“It is an honor … and I must tell you that I told Dr. Cedric Page that I could think of about 500 people who I thought would be better than me,” Herrera joked. “Because here’s what I think, I think that graduation commencement speakers should have solid advice to give to those who are graduating. I like advice, easy advice that won’t come during most commencement speeches include the old standards, ‘don’t spit in the wind, hold at 16 in Blackjack, and change the oil every 3,000 miles.’ But I think I’m probably up here to share bigger ideals.”

Herrera told the graduates she’s not so sure her advice is solid because she’s still seeking answers.

“I thought that by 60, I would pretty much have this game wrapped up, but the longer I live – the more questions I have,” she said. “So with full disclosure I come to each of you with the utmost humility about my thoughts about graduation, new beginnings, future challenges and some life lessons that I’ve learned along the way.”

Herrera identified the common thread amongst the GED, associate degree, baccalaureate graduates, herself and other podium speakers. They have all embarked on a journey of discovery, she said.

Herrera also asked graduates to remember the people who had their backs.

“You know who they are, your parents, your mom, your dad, your wife, your husband, your kids, your best friend, the friend you made at college, that teacher who somehow got you interested in a path you had never thought of before,” she said.

She invited the graduates to find a quiet moment and write down how each would like to see his or her life 30 years from now.

“This is about you and your dreams,” Herrera said. “It’s also about the power of intention. I’ve had the opportunity throughout my life to work in the public service sector and I still find it the most exciting work of all. Each of us has to find our own passion and our own dreams.”

In closing, Herrera read a quote from her hero, Nelson Mandela, a boy born in the bush country of South Africa in apartheid who grew up to change the way an entire world views mankind.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,” she quoted Mandela. “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

“Congratulations Class of 2009 on letting your light shine,” Herrera said.

Jill Oyenque-Hanson was the bachelor’s degree speaker for the college’s 28th commencement ceremony.

“I am humbled as I stand here before you, because whoever designed these ceremonial gowns and this flat hat was surely doing so with the idea that we would be very full of ourselves and a little bit of humility would be a good lesson for us before we enter the real world,” Oyenque-Hanson said. “None the less, we all wear them proud.”

She described UNM-LA as a wonderful gift nestled in the mountains where students are able to get an education for a modest price, live at home, continue to work and earn a useable degree.

“You do not value being known by your name or being recognized by the faculty, unless you have attended a larger university, but here you are a person,” she said. “We are granted easy access to the people and tools necessary to be successful. Take the time to share this with everyone you know. Spread the word … I would not have been able to go on with my education and raise my 3 daughters without UNM-LA and all the people associated. My thanks go out to each and every one of you.”

Oyenque-Hanson said she spent 30 years pursuing her degree, starting before and around family.

“I began before I had children, before there were cell phones or home computers,” she said. “When I began, you had to write the program just to get the computer to do something simple like sort a list. And that machine was as large as a car…”

Oyenque-Hanson described feeling blessed to have her daughters, family and friends in the audience who showed her encouragement the entire time she had to study or be in class.

“Without them this accomplishment would not mean as much,” she said. “I remind you to do the same for any student…encourage them. It makes a difference.”

Associate degree speaker Marie McClard spoke of the many challenges, including having two children, that she overcame and the support from family, bosses and UNM-LA professors that helped her earn her degree.

“There is not a professor I encountered who did not give 110 percent and for that we should all be grateful,” McClard said.

GED speaker Miriam Madera was clearly thrilled to have earned her diploma.

“I used to think the time for me to learn had passed until I learned how to swim,” she said.

Because she overcame her fear of water, Madera said she believed she could go back to school.

Friday’s ceremony was the fifth time in the history of UNM-Los Alamos in which academic regalia has been worn by degree candidates and faculty members.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her blog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.