The University of New Mexico recognized its 2021 spring graduating class Saturday morning with an outdoor ceremony under partly sunny skies at University Stadium. The in-person commencement ceremony was UNM’s first since December 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Approximately 1,200 out of 3,100 students eligible to receive degrees from UNM’s Albuquerque and Extended University campuses participated in the ceremony. UNM’s projected graduating class includes 2,230 bachelor’s degrees, 492 master’s degrees, 67 doctorates, 91 Juris doctorates, 79 medical doctorates, 66 pharmacy doctorates, 71 graduate certificates and 2 education specialists. An official degree count is determined following commencement.

At UNM-Gallup, 130 associate degrees and 33 certificates are projected to be awarded; at Los Alamos, 22 associate degrees; at Taos, 23 associate degrees and 17 certificates; and at Valencia, 61 associate degrees and 17 certificates.

“Someone once told me, ‘Tough times don’t last, but tough people do’; and man, has this year’s graduating class seen some tough times." – ASUNM President Mia Amin 

UNM President Garnett S. Stokes opened the ceremony with a reading of UNM’s Land Acknowledgment Statement and then welcomed the graduates with the sun peeking through the clouds offering a ray of hope as the world starts to get a handle on a pandemic that has uprooted life the past 14 months.

“This morning, we celebrate your journey and accomplishments at UNM—and we do so in person! And how good does it feel to say those words? I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you all again,” said Stokes. “Throughout your time here, you have helped write the continuing story of The University of New Mexico—and let me tell you, you have helped us write what has to be one of the most surreal chapters in our story.”

“But now…it is time for us, and you, to turn the page. Now it is time for you to help write the future of our state, our nation…and the planet. We will watch with pride and certainty as you make your way into a world that has been forever altered by the last year, and which will now be forever altered by you—for each of you embodies the values and spirit of The University of New Mexico…a place where Each of Us Defines All of Us.”

The Class of 2021, as did the Classes of 2020, certainly endured some of the most trying times in earning their degrees; a fact not lost on ASUNM President Mia Amin as she reminded her classmates.

“Someone once told me, ‘Tough times don’t last, but tough people do’; and man, has this year’s graduating class seen some tough times,” said Amin. “Trying to make ends meet as the economy crumbled, sitting through endless Zoom classes and meetings, attempting to socialize via virtual events and hangout sessions, and sometimes by even failing, we made it here today – to our graduation, and that is something worth celebrating.”

One of the special honors awarded during the commencement ceremony was the Tom L. Popejoy Dissertation Prize, recognizing the highest level of academic excellence among our doctoral students. The Tom L. Popejoy Dissertation Prize was established as a permanent memorial to the late Tom L. Popejoy, UNM president from 1948 to 1968. The award recognizes and encourages the highest level of academic excellence.

This spring, the award was presented to Dr. Jocelyn Collella, an evolutionary biologist whose research uses mammals as models to understand how organisms change through time. After competing for Lobo Swim and Dive as an undergrad, Colella completed her Ph.D. at The University of New Mexico in 2019 in Dr. Joseph Cook's lab, where her research focused on hybridization dynamics among high-latitude mammalian meso-carnivores.

Keynote speaker UNM alumna and New Mexico native Melanie Kenderdine, principal of Energy Futures Initiative, offered a comparison of how life is today to what she experienced growing up in the East Mountains. She offered a thoughtful and useful message that encouraged graduates to be prepared to take risks, look for mentors, build things from scratch, look for opportunities to right wrongs, analyze and innovate, and choose wisely and love well.

“A little history is important,” Kenderdine said. “My degree was in political science, but I had 45 hours of history. History is instructive. It makes us who we are and points us to where we are going. It’s important for perspective. While these limited our options and placed boundaries on our universe, they also gave disparate people across the country a core set of shared experiences and messages -- a platform for a nationwide value system.

“I worry today about the loss of these broadly shared – and embraced – experiences. I fear that the wide range of communications options, cable stations, social media, enable – indeed encourage – everyone to retreat to their own corners, talk only to those who agree with them, shut out competing views. We think we are absolutely correct because we don’t often communicate with those who might think otherwise.”  

Kenderdine feels today’s technologies do offer opportunities for new partnerships and collaborations in an ever-changing world. “What I am saying is that we need new tools to support coalition building…new platforms for having conversations with those who don’t always agree with us…new venues where disagreements are resolved via compromise, not with guns and violence.”   

After the conferring of degrees, in closing Stokes thanked faculty and staff who helped UNM’s graduates succeed and introduced a heart-warming Proud Parents video that left a tear in the eyes of many and said, “We want to recognize those who made certain that you didn’t set forth on this journey alone. For all those watching this ceremony online—this is your moment, too, and we thank you for the encouragement and support you have given and continue to give to this day.”

For more information on UNM's commencement exercises, visit 2021 Spring Commencement.

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For stories about Inspiring Graduates visit, Class of 2021 | Inspiring Graduates.