“If I can do it, you can, too”

By Bill Knief

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May 11 is graduation day at UNM-Taos—or, because it signifies the beginning of something just as much as it marks a completion, it might more appropriately be called a commencement ceremony. Executive Director Dr. Kate O’Neill says it is her favorite day of the year.

Fully 210 students will cross the stage May 11, shaking hands, picking up their membership in the Alumni Association, and getting that piece of paper that represents countless hours of study, classroom lectures, and personal sacrifices both large and small. They will receive GED diplomas, certificates, degrees, licenses and bachelor and graduate recognitions. They do it to get ahead, to challenge themselves, to have a better income, to improve their skills and their viability in the job market, or for the simple love of learning.

Often, they do it to be that positive role model for a child, a loved one, or perhaps some nameless, faceless person they have never met. “If I can do it, you can, too,” is the message they project, and it is heard loud and clear across the community.

Certainly, the odds were against every one of them, coming as they do from a small, rural, remote, underserved and underfunded region of New Mexico. Yet they not only persevered, they prevailed.

In a time of unprecedented economic disparity and social inequality, to paraphrase Dr. O’Neill, education is indeed the great equalizer.

Around seven, when the commencement ceremony is over, graduates will spill out of Bataan Hall to have their pictures taken in caps and gowns, and share that rare, sweet sensation of success. Again this year, the town has agreed to shut down Civic Plaza Drive so that families can enjoy the occasion to the fullest.

But this year we are planning something special. Our dear friend, colleague and Dean of Instruction Jim Gilroy is moving on to retirement and we are having a brief, informal reception in the courtyard between Bataan and the convention center in his honor. Please stop by just to say thanks, and help recognize and celebrate the enormous impact Jim Gilroy has had on our community during his 28 year career in education—20 years as a biology instructor at Taos High, and eight years as UNM-Taos Dean.

Mayor Darren Cordova, who summed it all up some years back with the phrase, “Education is the engine that drives economic development in Taos,” will be on hand with a proclamation designating May 11 as Jim Gilroy Day in Taos.

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