It was soon after her 30th birthday that Beth Glenn woke up one night and told herself “I have to do something different.” A fan of the series ‘Breaking Bad,’ which was filmed in New Mexico, she decided Albuquerque looked intriguing, so she packed up, moved, and started studies at The University of New Mexico. She graduates this week.

My family 2 Beth
Beth Glenn and family

“I am from St. Louis, Missouri originally and came here because something spiritual led me to New Mexico. I still can’t explain it, but I am glad that it did,” she said. “I started this journey thinking that this degree was just for me and for my dreams. I have since learned that this degree is for my entire family. For my father who didn't live to see this day, for my mother who worked several jobs at times just to take care of me and my brothers, for my brothers who always believed in me, and for my nieces and nephews to see that they can do it too.”

The road hasn’t been easy. Glenn said she went through many hardships and many sleepless nights.

“However, everything I have gone through has made me stronger. Every class, every professor every friendship I have made has made me a better person.”

Glenn arrived at UNM intending to study music but a class in Africana Studies changed her path. She is graduating with a degree in Africana Studies with a minor in religious studies and a certificate for Race & Social Justice.

“I found what really made me happy. My family has always been very big on knowing our history and instilled the importance in me to continue to share this knowledge. Getting a degree in Africana Studies only made sense. It is my life and what I love.”

A highlight of her studies was a trip to Africa.

“I went to Kenya on a study abroad trip with my Swahili class led by Professor Peter Mwangi. While there my classmates and I were privileged to have classes with a Swahili instructor at Kenyatta University and were also able to build a relationship with the Africana Studies department there. Going to Kenya was one of the best things that has ever happened in my life. I was able to immerse myself in the culture and I just felt truly at home. I think everyone should visit a country or two in Africa during their lifetime. Especially African American people. It is our roots and where we come from,” Glenn remarked.

Glenn said the most important thing she learned from Africana Studies is confidence and self-worth.

“Taking Africana Studies classes not only taught me the history of my people but also gave me the confidence and self-worth that I was looking for, for many years. I am now able to look in the mirror and love who I am because I know where I come from and how privileged I am to call myself an African American woman.”

Among Glenn’s favorite professors were Natasha Howard, Carmen Samora and Charles Becknell.

“All of them were more than just professors. They became my mentors, my soundboard, and I know that even after I graduate they will continue to be in my life and to be a part of my continued success… I am thankful especially for the Africana Studies department and for them being with me every step of the way through this journey. I hope I make them proud in this next chapter of my life.”

Another highlight of her time at UNM was meeting her husband.

Beth Glenn and husband Boney Mutabazi
Beth Glenn and husband Boney Mutabazi, Spring Class of 2020

“I met my husband Boney Mutabazi in 2019 at UNM. He was a graduate student there and graduated Spring 2020. We were married this year in May. He is the love of my life and my biggest supporter... Meeting him and getting this degree has been my greatest accomplishments so far.”

Glenn will be the first member of her immediate family to get a bachelor’s degree and said they are all extremely proud of her and looking forward to what she will do next.

Her graduation is all the more poignant for her family because her oldest brother, Julian Laron Thomas, died on Thanksgiving Day. He taught martial arts and had a not-for-profit organization called HHYPE (hip-hop, yoga, physical education) that helped “at-risk youth and ex-offenders transition into outstanding citizens of society by using transferable skills and focused energy,” as well as another called CLAP (Confidence, Leadership, Awareness/anti-bullying/attitude and Protection).

Beth brother photo
Julian Laron Thomas

“I feel like getting this degree and also using it to see some of my brother’s dreams come true is now one of the biggest goals I hope to accomplish.”

Glenn now plans to apply to Duke Divinity School to pursue a master’s of theology after graduation and eventually teaching Black studies and religious studies. She will incorporate her love of music into her teaching.

“Music has always been my first love. I sing, play guitar and write songs. I hope to incorporate that in my classroom when I become a professor.”

Glenn had words to non-traditional students like herself: “It doesn’t matter how old you are. You are here and your dreams can still come true. Never give up!”

“Initially my UNM experience started out very hard because I was so far from my family and friends. I spent many days wondering if I made the right choice when I was faced with many difficulties. But when I was hired in Africana Studies as an admin assistant III I found my New Mexico family. All of the faculty and staff have supported me every step of the way. They would not let me give up on myself and continued to offer words of advice and encouragement. I do not think I would have come as far if I did not have their love and support. I came here seeking a degree but I have gained so much more. I gained a family.”

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** This article is dedicated in loving memory of Julian Laron Thomas.