Two special people earn their degrees

Jim Lee: Local Columnist

Eastern New Mexico University presented its semi-annual commencement activities on Saturday at the Greyhound Arena here in Portales.

That’s not really big news in a small college town. It’s big news to the new graduates and their families, though. And it should be. These fine people worked hard to get to this big moment in their lives and deserve more credit than they get. In my opinion, some of them deserve an extra serving of recognition.

Non-traditional students, affectionately known as non-trads, have more to deal with than simply passing classes. These folks are not fresh out of high school, and good ol’ Mom and Dad aren’t putting them through college.

They have been taking care of themselves, and often a family, for years. They have decided to improve themselves through their own efforts. They shove aside all that intimidation and just go to work making better lives for themselves. Lots of effort with no excuses.

See why I respect them so much?

I had the honor to receive invitations from two of these wonderful people, both in that special category called non-trad. They are Linda Brown and Jim Aycock.

Linda and her husband Huie are friends of mine. Huie and I have lunch together quite frequently and are fellow members of the Kiwanis Club of Portales. Huie is a former non-trad. After serving our country in the Air Force for two decades, he decided to finish college. He has since earned two bachelor’s degrees and now takes care of the physical science department at ENMU — including feeding that new display with the big teeth in the Natural History Museum on campus. The last I heard he hasn’t lost any fingers in the process.

Saturday, as Huie would be the first to say, was Linda’s day. Now she has her own bachelor’s degree. Congratulations to her on her achievement.

The other person who invited me to the graduation is Jim Aycock. I have known Jim quite a few years and treasure his friendship. Yes, he is another non-trad. Many people facing the obstacles he has confronted would give up and do nothing for themselves or the world they live in. Not so with Jim Aycock.

His father died in front of him from a tragic fall when he was 9 years old. Financial hardship and family problems prevented him from completing high school, or even middle school, but he learned a good trade and worked hard many years, never asking anybody for anything. Then he became disabled.

Forced into retirement, he still didn’t give up. So, in his 60s, he decided to pursue an education and develop a new career path. Out of school well over four decades, he had the courage to tackle the G.E.D. high school equivalency exam. He passed it and entered college.

At Clovis Community College he survived a heart attack, served in the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, and graduated with honors. Then he transferred to ENMU. He continued in the face of financial distress and chronic health crises. And he completed his bachelor’s degree through determination and good old fashioned guts.

On Saturday, my friend Jim went to his graduation on his 69th birthday. Happy birthday and happy graduation, Jim.
I congratulate everyone who graduated on Saturday. Traditional students and non-traditional students earned their degrees in their own way with their own unique obstacles. I admire them all, but I still think Linda and Jim are special.