Never too old: UNM-LA grads celebrate hard-earned degrees

-A A +A
By Carol A. Clark

Pride and inspiration, plenty of humor and surely a little relief filled the UNM-Los Alamos Courtyard Friday for the 27th annual graduation convocation.

Graduate Paul Howard, 43, certainly won the medal for perseverance – staying the course for 25 years to complete his bachelor’s degree.

Vowing not to get emotional, Howard kept his word until he thanked his wife.

“There are those in your life who’ve sacrificed to help you get here … No one does this alone,” he said and listed many ways in which his wife and five children supported his educational efforts through the years.

Howard, the student speaker representing those receiving bachelor and graduate degrees, received his Bachelor of University Studies degree Friday. He began his undergraduate studies in the mid-1980s.

“Mr. Howard responded to life’s demands and circumstances – work and family – and discontinued his studies until he contacted our Bachelor and Graduate Programs staff member Cindy Leyba, and with her support and encouragement, helped him plan and make the commitment to complete,” said UNM-LA Executive Director Cedric Page.

Howard told his fellow graduates and anyone who hasn’t completed their formal education, no matter what their age, “The goal is not to be the first – but simply to finish.”

Marsha Stillwell sang the National Anthem. Gabriella Herzeg shared her piano talent as well. A reception followed the ceremony with food provided by the UNM-LA Café.

Distinguished guests and speakers for the event included UNM-LA Advisory Board Chairman and faculty member Michael Wismer, LANL Mentor Alan Graham, UNM-LA Advisory Board Secretary Marie Chiravalle and members Nelson Hoffman and Ron Dolin, Interim Dean of Instruction Kate Massengale, and state reps. Jeanette Wallace and Nick Salazar.

The key note speaker for the evening was Deputy Secretary William V. Flores of the New Mexico Higher Education Department.

During his commencement speech, Flores spoke of his father dropping out of high school, to fight in WWII. He eventually went back to school and ultimately earned a college degree and was responsible for all the helicopters in the entire Seventh Fleet.

Flores also spoke of how technology is changing the world. “Twenty percent of jobs today exist in industries that did not exist 20 years ago,” he said. “You’re going to have to be willing to learn and relearn.”

Gov. Bill Richardson appointed Flores deputy secretary of Higher Education in May 2007. Prior to joining the department, Flores served as executive vice president and provost of New Mexico State University for six years, where in 2003 he also served as interim president. He has researched and published on voting rights, at-large elections, organizational behavior, community empowerment, health-care policy and violence prevention. Flores also co-edited the book “Latino Cultural Citizenship.”