Consuelo Pascual already has a bachelor's degree in fashion merchandising from New Mexico State University, but she wanted to earn an additional degree in fashion design. So the Farmington native enrolled at Santa Fe Community College.
Pascual was one of about 160 students who took part in the graduation walk during a commencement ceremony held at the William C. Witter Fitness Education Center on Wednesday evening.
Some 475 students actually received 525 degrees and certificates this year, but not all of them showed up for the event, which drew about 600 people. The average age of this year's graduates, according to the college, is 36, with students ranging in age from 17 to 76.
College President Sheila Ortego -- who is retiring this August after 30 years of service to the college and six years' tenure as president -- conferred the degrees in a roughly 75-minute ceremony replete with guest speakers who talked of taking chances, taking charge and taking responsibility.
Ortego kept her own comments brief, noting, "Today is a beginning, the next step, because we must never stop learning."
The graduates first gathered upstairs in the fitness center and, as a recording of the Pomp and Circumstance march played, they made their way around the running track on the second floor before descending the stairs into the gym to applause and cheers.
Graduate Barbara Griego, a Santa Fean who received an associate of science degree in computer science, delivered the student address, telling the assembly of her own challenges in trying to find out where she fit both academically and geographically.
She started taking classes at the community college in 2010 at the age of 39, surprised that she ended up back in school 20 years after completing high school. "The truth is, college wasn't on my road map," she said, recounting how she was working for a car dealership in Austin, Texas, where she discovered she had an interest in working with computers. She said regardless of the graduates' ages, they are beginning to write another chapter in their own stories. "The beauty of it all is that the story keeps growing and evolving as you do," she told her peers.
The commencement's keynote speaker was Rod Risley, executive director of the honor society Phi Theta Kappa and an outspoken advocate for pursuing a community-college education.
"You got this quality education at one-third of the cost compared to those who attended only a senior college," he said. "Let the elitists revel in their snobbery while you laugh all the way to the bank."
The crowd responded with supportive delight when Risley suggested it's a good time to be a nerd, a geek and/or a dweeb: "It's cool to be smart, and don't you ever forget that."
He also urged them to be responsible for others around them and to use their knowledge to improve the communities they live in.
"The only thing that could possibly hold you back ... is you," he said.
Pascual, who now has an associate degree in applied arts, is not going to hold back. She said she's heading back to Farmington to see what occurs next. "I'm excited to see what will happen in the future, but sad to be leaving Santa Fe," she said. "I love this city and this school."
About 185 students who have completed the college's GED program will receive their certificates at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the fitness center.
Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or email@example.com.
Please note, the comment system has been temporarily suspended. Comments will return with the launch of our new website on March 11, 2013. Please direct questions or concerns to web editor Natalie Guillen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your patience.