For the first time in 14 years, University of New Mexico-Taos commencement ceremonies were celebrated on two consecutive days.
The high school equivalency graduation ceremony took place May 11 at the Sagebrush Inn and Conference Center and the UNM-Taos commencement ceremony was held the following day at the same place.
“The number of participants, community members, faculty and staff was becoming too many for the event to be held in one evening,” said Marta Romero, senior student adviser at the high school equivalency program. “It was the first time we were able to host the high school equivalency graduation and include a student speaker from our program.”
“Seeing these students graduating today is like kicking a young bird out of the nest,” said John Kaeck, who teaches math at Taos Education and Career Center. “They are ready to fly. We are so proud of these young men and women who are entering a new and rewarding phase of their lives.”
“It was my pleasure to work with all these hardworking students,” said Joan Livingston, reading and writing instructor with Career Pathways at TECC.
A total of 91 students – 52 from TECC and 39 from HEP – received their diplomas.
Dr. Marty Hewlett, UNM-Taos CEO, reminded the graduating students and the audience that commencements are new beginnings.
“We hope you join us at UNM-Taos,” he told the graduates. “All of you are the reason why we are here.”
The student speakers, Antonio Galvan of HEP and Dallas Loretto of TECC, shared their stories of overcoming obstacles and getting ahead in life thanks to the encouragement provided by their instructors and advisors.
Loretto was named an “outstanding student of the year” by the New Mexico Adult Education Association in March. He completed his high school equivalency in October 2016.
In his speech, Loretto mentioned how, after dropping out of high school, he struggled with alcohol and made some bad choices. The death of his brothers marked a turning point in his life and he decided to earn his high school equivalency.
“I want to thank all the TECC staff,” he said. “Education is a way to transform our lives. It is all about positive changes. This is a great milestone for me.”
Loretto also had words of advice to those who are now planning to further their education. “Don’t give up,” he said. “Don’t lose sight of your goals, be true to yourselves, don’t be afraid of challenges and pray.”
He plans to study liberal arts, probably at UNM’s Albuquerque campus.
Galvan also talked about taking the wrong path early in life and how he got started on his road to recovery with the help of the HEP team. He is 38 years old and dropped out of high school when he was in the ninth grade.
Living in Chamita (a rural community north of Española) gave him the opportunity to work in the fields every season since he was young.
“It’s a privilege to work the land,” he said.
He has been enrolled with HEP since April 2016 and completed more than 100 hours of instruction in preparation for his high school equivalency diploma, which he obtained May 4 of this year. He hopes to gain postsecondary education at Northern New Mexico College and get a degree in social work and counseling.
Another happy graduate was Bilander Conchas, a native of Mexico and the chef at Stray Dog Cantina in Taos Ski Valley.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do and I was finally able to do it,” he said. “It took me around three months altogether. I want to encourage everybody who is still ‘thinking about it’ to go ahead and give education a chance.”
HEP assists seasonal migrant farmworkers and their children to gain a high school equivalency diploma. To qualify for the program, potential students need to be at least 16 years of age, not have a high school diploma and have had at least 75 days of work in either farming or agriculture within the past 24 months of enrolling for the program.
TECC works with adults and youth, at least 16 years of age, to improve their academic skills in order to obtain a high school equivalency and prepare for the college entrance exam via college and career readiness classes. TECC also offers English as a second language classes.
HEP is located at 630 Paseo del Pueblo Sur, Suite 100. TECC is located at 115 Civic Plaza Drive, Taos.