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After years of hard work and dedication, it was finally time to celebrate. The University of New Mexico-Los Alamos faculty along with parents, children and siblings filled up the parish hall at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church Friday evening to mark a special occasion – graduation day. About 60 UNM-LA students adorned red robes and walked down the middle of the hall to receive their bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, certificates or General Education Development diplomas.
With the Española Valley High School choir singing “I Believe I Can Fly,” and a scattering of balloons with messages such as “Congratulations” written on them, the air was thick with pride. This admiration was reflected in UNM Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Suzanne Ortega’s opening remarks. She said graduating is a sign that an educational goal has been accomplished.
Ortega added graduation is not just the result of one person’s efforts but the product of
support from family and friends.
She recalled when she herself decided to get her GED, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree and so on, there were always people rooting her on, saying, “Yes, you can!”
As a result, Ortega told the group of
graduates that whatever their future goals are, they can be achieved.
”I am celebrating with you tonight,” she said, “your wonderful accomplishments. This is just your start.”
In his convocation address, Kurt Steinhaus, director of Los Alamos National Laboratory Community Programs Office, continued to praise the UNM-LA graduates.
“Why are we here?” he asked. “We’re here to congratulate all of you. Everyone is here because of you. Today is your day.”
Tomorrow, he joked, will be a totally different story.
But to get through tomorrow and the days that follow, Steinhaus offered some advice.
First, he said, find a passion and follow it; second, think about what passion to pursue as a career.
Third, when an opportunity is presented, grab it and run with it. Fourth, follow the advice of Yogi Berra; “When you come to the fork in the road, take it.” Steinhaus explained Berra’s logic — accept different opinions and look for the unexpected.
He advised the graduates to find people who allow individuals to shine and add them to their team as well as to take risks and keep their heads out. Additionally, he told the crowd to be willing to fail and if the graduates help others get their work done while also achieving their own goals, then a valuable partnership is made.
Steinhaus added if the graduates find themselves in a hole, they should stop digging. Finally, he said, “Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community and devote yourself to something that gives you meaning.”
While the spotlight was cast on all graduates, two in particular were given special recognition. Allen Weiser, the associate degree speaker, was the oldest in his class. Being 48 years old didn’t stop Weiser from earning a scholarship to attend UNM-LA as well as graduating with honors with a degree in applied science.
It wasn’t without some difficulty, however. After taking a 25-year break from school, Weiser said, “It was a new experience going back to school.”
It required studying all night and then getting up in the morning to head back to class, he said.
But he did it through the support of his family and his faith. UNM-LA also proved to be the best fit for a non-traditional student. “It makes you feel better about going back to school,” he said.
Weiser added his family had two causes for celebration – one being his graduation as well as his youngest daughter earning her degree in physical therapy.
Anthony Martinez, the GED speaker, commented that his family also provided him with support.
He admitted to making mistakes in his life before deciding to return to school. Martinez credited his father, grandparents and other family members for offering support.
”They never gave up on me,” he said.
Speaking from experience, Martinez told his fellow graduates, “You have what it takes to better yourself. Your life is in your hands.”