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Long hours of studying, test-taking and attending classes paid off for University of New Mexico-Los Alamos students Friday.
Friends and family gathered in Duane Smith Auditorium at 6 p.m. to watch the 47 UNM-LA graduates receive their degrees and certificates as part of the 30th annual graduation convocation. Twenty-eight General Education Development Diploma recipients also joined in the celebration as they received their GEDs.
UNM-LA’s Executive Director Dr. Cedric Page opened the ceremony with a welcome address, followed by the convocation address, given by Denise Thronas, an Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo resident and the technical project manager for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Thronas addressed the graduates and said, “A lot of you, like me, are probably first generation graduates.”
She went on to talk about her college experience at New Mexico State University, where she originally planned to major in engineering and about how difficult it was for her at college because she realized that she did not have any family there to support her.
She recounted one holiday season when all of her friends at NMSU were going home for the holidays, but she was unable to leave because she did not have a vehicle. She thought that her mother would pick her up, but she did not.
“I cried in the closet,” Thronas said. “I realized that no one was going to save me. I had to save myself … I had to stand up and realize that I had to save myself.”
Her crying came to an end when a friend found her and invited her to dinner at Taco Bell. “It was over after that,” she said of her sad experience.
“Whenever I needed courage, I had to go inside myself and realize I could make these changes myself.”
Thronas also told the graduates that she felt out of place when she entered the chemistry field. She talked about her love of organic chemistry and how she was going to lose her engineering scholarships if she changed majors. Despite that fact, she made the jump to chemistry and in 1992, was offered a job at LANL.
“I just kept going, realizing these curves in the road are opportunities,” she said. When the lab began reducing its workforce in 1995, Thronas decided to return to college and finish her degree at NMSU.
“You have to decide how you’re going to stand up to your challenges,” she said.
Following Thronas’ speech, Katherine Nystrom, the bachelor and graduate degree speaker took to the podium. She opened by telling graduates that she did not plan to go to college.
“I didn’t want to break up my family, but I came around and started taking classes at UNM-LA.,” she said.
Nystrom said she chose a major that she knew nothing about, but was slated to receive her bachelor’s degree in computer science at the ceremony Friday.
“That’s been an adventure in itself,” she said. “I’ve discovered a side of myself that I never knew existed.”
During Friday’s ceremony, the Los Alamos High School NJROTC presented the colors, while Katie Weinland performed the national anthem. Juanita Madland provided music for the processional and the recessional. Refreshments for attendees were provided in the lobby of Duane Smith Auditorium following the ceremony.