The University of New Mexico will graduate approximately 3,900 students as part of the Class of 2017 – each one with a more inspirational story than the last. Their commencement is the culmination of many years of hard work, perseverance and dedication to their studies, their university and their desire to better themselves.
Their stories are as different as the degrees they are receiving, from the loss of family members and devastation of addiction; to first-generation graduates; to those who did not let their undocumented status stand in the way of their dreams.
For some, this is just a stepping stone in further academic studies. For others, this is the start of a new journey as they pursue careers in their chosen fields. For all of them, commencement is a moment to celebrate their achievement up to this point; and revel in the knowledge that they are now Lobos for Life.
Riley Del Rey – B.A. Philosophy
Riley Del Rey will be the first in her family to graduate from college. She used her time at UNM to complete a degree in philosophy; and also to become secure in who she is as a transgender woman. She says UNM staff and faculty taught her the deep value of mentorship.
Bridgette Wagner Jones – B.L.A. Arts & Humanities
As a UNM transfer student back in the 1980's, Bridgette Wagner Jones ventured off to New York City, never finishing her degree. Years later, she made her way back to New Mexico and has been a UNM staff member for nearly 20 years. Now, as a wife and mother of a young daughter, she is finally graduating with her bachelor's degree – proving it's never too late to invest in yourself.
Danielle Harrier – B.S. Chemical Engineering
Starting at a young age, whenever anyone told Danielle Harrier she could not do something, it in turn made her want to prove them wrong. The UNM senior has used that fighting spirit to complete a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. Now Harrier strives to empower other minority students.
Colleen Fabian – B.S. Biology
At 19-years-old, Colleen Fabian was diagnosed with brain cancer. A UNM junior at the time, Fabian was forced to undergo surgery to remove the tumor in her brain. But, thanks to the support from her family, friends and the University community, Fabian was able to make a full recovery and is now graduating with plans to attend the UNM School of Medicine this fall. "For me, UNM is a place full of a lot of different kinds of people," she said. "Where you can really learn and grow as a person."
Estefania Montanez – B.S. Psychology
As an undocumented student, Estefania Montanez came to UNM to advocate for other underrepresented students. Now, she is graduating with a B.S. in Psychology and has already accepted a full ride scholarship to become a doctor at the UNM School of Medicine. She says watching a friend battle cancer during high school pushed her to pursue her dreams of becoming a physician.
Tatiana Solis Vela – B.S. Anthropology & B.A. Spanish
Tatiana came to UNM to study anthropology due to her mother’s advice that you should live your life in pursuit of education and adventures. She found a second home here—working as a director for ASUNM Special Events. She credits her Lobo family as the reason why she was able to continue with her education after her mother’s death. Tatiana is a Lobo for life.
Robert Garcia – B.S. Civil Engineering
At 27-years-old, Robert Garcia decided he was tired of working nights at his computer support job and wanted to make a change for himself and his young family. So, after a few years of classes at Santa Fe Community College, Garcia transferred to UNM to finish his degree. But, because of his work and class hours, many times Garcia was forced to sleep in his car, Zimmerman Library and wherever else he could, to make sure he made it to class. Now, he's graduating with a B.S. in Civil Engineering and will be a Lobo for Life.
Kim Wagner – B.S. Technology & Training
After receiving a kidney transplant at UNMH, Kim Wagner says UNM felt like family. She was able to use The University's online learning programs to complete her degree, despite being in and out of the hospital over the years.
Joseluis Ayala – B.A. Foreign Languages
Joseluis Ayala has a passion for foreign languages. As an undergraduate he received scholarships to study in Russia—learning the language and culture in hopes of working for the U.S. government. He credits his success to UNM's Naval ROTC and the accountability and discipline you learn as a midshipman.