Commencement stories

By Bill Knief

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Tonya Vargas is a full time preschool teacher at UNM-Taos Kid’s Campus. March 15 she received her BS degree in Early Childhood Multicultural Education. It wasn’t a last minute decision.

“I have wanted to be a teacher since about second grade,” she explained. “I would line up all my stuffed animals in my room and talk to them like I was their teacher. Even then I knew that’s what I wanted to be.”

“The fun part of pre-K is that I get to act silly and play with the kids and make them laugh. And while I’m doing that they’re actually learning. When I get out the puppets and pretend I’m a cow for instance, I’m expanding their vocabulary. Then when it’s their turn to be a puppet they mimic what I said, so I’ve introduced them to a new world through play.

“When I had my second child in 2003 was when I decided to go back to school. I got my associate’s degree in ECME in 2006 and then it took three years to get my bachelor’s—all at UNM-Taos. You might say I am a product of Margaret Mactavish and Mona Montoya; they are spectacular educators.

“I was 26 when I went back to school. Sometimes it seems like a juggling act because I’ve never stopped working, being there for my family and going to school. But it’s good to explore life, look deep inside yourself and find out what you’re best at. College isn’t for everyone, but you still need to find a trade that you can be good at and enjoy from your heart. If you work hard in life it pays off.”


Annette Arellano graduated with an associate’s degree in Communication and Journalism. She said she didn’t think anyone would be interested in her writing until a story she had written caught the eye of one of her professors, Bonnie Lee Black, who encouraged her to continue. Now she works in print, video and radio.

“Getting my BA will probably take another two years,” she said. “But there’s not a limit when it comes to education. I hesitated for a while, and I felt intimidated at first because I thought I’d be older than the other students, but once I took that first step I just kept on going. Everything is a learning experience. I’ve never even thought about stopping.

“We’re all a little bit afraid of failure, but there’s no real failure. There’s always a way to get through.”


“When I started, my only goal was to get my GED,” Marie Previti explained. “I had dropped out in tenth grade. Then, 20 years later, I found myself encouraging my daughter to stay in school, telling her you can get a better job and you don’t have to struggle and stress as much over the bills. And I just realized, you know, I should take my own advice!

“When I completed the GED the ladies over at CASA called me and said I had done so well I should go to UNM-Taos orientation the next day. So I got my mom to baby sit and by the end of the day I had my financial aid and a full schedule of classes. I said to my mom, I think I am a college student!

“That was two years ago. I knew how to Google, and that was about it. Now I have my Certificate in Business Computers and I feel confident that I could actually get a job working behind a computer.

“I recommend to anyone that they stay in school and get that diploma. It’s worth more than the GED. But if you just can’t do it any more, take the time to get your GED before you forget your knowledge, even if you don’t have a career path in mind.

“I’d like to express my appreciation to UNM-Taos for all that they have done for me. They have improved my self esteem and of course my skills, but they have also helped me be a better influence on my daughter.”

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