By Janet Bresenham
JD Brown beamed with joy as he clutched his Eastern New Mexico University diploma Saturday and greeted a proud circle of relatives and friends at Greyhound Arena.
“It feels great,” said Brown, who received his bachelor of science degree in agriculture. “It’s about time. Eastern was wonderful. My instructors were amazing, and I met some awesome people here.”
Brown, 25, who plans to leave for Africa next month with a Christian mission group, was one of 405 students who graduated during Eastern’s 104th commencement ceremony.
D’Anna O’Mera, 27, of Roswell said she enjoyed being able to take most of the classes for her bachelor of science in education degree at Eastern’s branch campus in her hometown.
“It feels really good to graduate,” said O’Mera, who plans to teach.
ENMU President Steven Gamble tried in vain several times to ask the audience to hold their applause, but wild cheering and shouting erupted frequently from the standing-room-only group of family members and friends of graduates.
“It’s the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen in the 21 years I’ve been here,” said Wendel Sloan, ENMU News Services director.
State Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, promised the graduating ENMU class his commencement speech would be brief and peppered his remarks with a mix of humor and encouragement.
“Never think that your education is over,” said Ingle, who has served state Senate District 27 in the New Mexico Legislature since 1985. “Education is life itself.”
Ingle, whose advice ranged from how to use toothpaste to fill holes in sheetrock to the importance of preserving university and graduation memories, told the seniors and graduate students they were now part of a legacy of service in New Mexico as ENMU alumni.
“It’s a tough world out there, but we have a beautiful state,” Ingle said. “The people are what make our state beautiful, and you are part of our state now. And the teachers that are here, God bless you.”
Ingle, who received a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Oklahoma State University, said he wanted the graduates to make four key values a part of their lives: honesty, lifelong learning, common sense and compassion.
“Follow your compassion,” Ingle said. “Compassion needs to be part of everything you do.”
Meanwhile, Friday night saw the 17th commencement convocation ceremony for Clovis Community College, where 253 graduates were presented with associates’ degrees or certificates of completion.
Beth DeFoor, CCC director of marketing and public relations, said that since the college now includes fall and spring graduates in one ceremony each May, the group of graduates has increased.
Laphelia Thomas, 31, who finished her associate’s degree in liberal arts in December, was among the CCC graduates.
“I wanted to walk across the stage, even though I got my diploma in the mail earlier,” Thomas said. “I felt like I deserved it, just to make it more official. It was exciting.”
Thomas, who is already working on her bachelor’s degree, said she enjoyed the community college experience.
“It was family oriented, and the teachers cared about the students,” Thomas said. “They give you the workload, but at the same time, they were willing to work with you. It was convenient, too, and the cost was good.”
DeFoor said one of her favorite parts of graduation was the formal pinning ceremony for the nursing students, which included the surprise presentation of flowers for all their instructors.
“It was very touching,” DeFoor said. “When we went outside, they were just hugging each other and talking about being friends for life. You could see a really tight bond. They’ve really been through this together.”