After commencement, UNM-Taos graduates hurried to the Sagebrush Inn patio for a reception.
Graduation is a special time in Taos, coming as it does just as winter is turning to spring, new growth is replacing old, and students from Pre-K to the post-doctoral level pause to celebrate their success and contemplate their next move.
This year Jim Gilroy, a well-known and respected biologist and our retired Dean of Instruction who has spent the better part of his life teaching and advocating for students, gave an address to scholarship recipients and Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society inductees at UNM-Taos.
Quoting a past Honor Society president, he spoke of community colleges as being “democracy colleges” in the sense that everyone has an equal opportunity to attend. With open enrollment and tuition that is a fraction of what for-profit colleges and four-year universities require, it’s no wonder that UNM-Taos has seen unprecedented growth in the past 4 years. Taos County residents have come to realize that a community college education can help level the playing field right here at home, where work and family obligations cannot be ignored. Consequently, nearly half of all undergraduates across the country attend “democracy” community colleges, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.
“Whether a student’s goal is to transfer to a four year institution or to immediately join the workforce, community colleges can provide the preparation, training and services that are needed for success,” according to the AACC Fact Sheet.
“But besides the value of attending a democracy college,” Gilroy went on, “we are very fortunate to be attending college in Taos. Taos is a unique community. Taos is a community with distinctly different cultures. Distinctly different beliefs. Distinctly different ideas. What that does for students is that it adds to your ability to be able to cope with complexity. There is something about living in a complex world, and I say this as a biologist: complexity allows you to be very resourceful and be able to adapt. And that is crucial in the evolution of any organism.
“For the human organism, that means that you have to be creative. Creativity is the cornerstone and source of pride for the Taos community, and I think that is important for the life that you are going to live. Creativity will continually give you things to look forward to, and give you opportunities for you to embrace.
“Some of these have to do with understanding and respect for differences. We live in a world that has gotten to be very fearful of those things that are different from ourselves. But in Taos we have grown up with differences. We feel comfortable with them. We respect and understand them. And that’s something we can offer to the bigger world.
“Taking good care of land and water are critical issues today, particularly in the southwest. Providing wholesome food; food without chemical residue. Food that is produced taking into consideration climate change. And providing quality health care for our community.
“I would hope that from this group there might be some educators in the future; teachers who really care and are really competent.
“Some of you may be involved in politics, both local and national. I think we are tired of the ideological blockages that we experience today. Some of you will create businesses, businesses that we hope are community oriented. Some of you will be involved in sustainable energy. Perhaps one or two might envision an economic system that is a lot more fair, particularly for people who suffer from poverty. We need an economic system that addresses those issues.
“We need to find better solutions for migrants, for refugees. Children who have been in refugee camps for years without education, without healthcare.
“And finally, we must learn to preserve the biosphere that we live in, keeping it wild, keeping it healthy, and keeping it pollution free.
“These are just a handful of issues that, hopefully, some of you will undertake. We are one species on this planet, and we have the unique capability to provide do-able solutions for those problems that we’ve raised.
“An educated mind and a disciplined and creative spirit can make a world of difference, and I think in this room tonight we see the potential that is there.”