More than 1,700 graduate from San Juan College

The spring commencement ceremony recognized students who earned everything from certificates to master's degrees

Joshua Kellogg
  • About 1,650 San Juan College students earned associate degrees or certificates this spring.
  • Another 110 students earned degrees from Farmington campuses of NMHU and UNM.
  • Graduate Jessica Gomez and alum Jay Paul McWilliams with LOGOS Resources spoke at the ceremony.
Graduate Heather Etcitty, of Hogback, leaves the stage after getting her diploma during the San Juan College commencement ceremony on Saturday at the college in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — Today marked a time of celebration for San Juan College students as the latest graduates were recognized at the spring commencement ceremony.

About 1,650 San Juan College students who earned associate degrees or certificates were honored in an outdoor ceremony at the campus’ Learning Commons Plaza.

The ceremony also celebrated about 110 students who earned bachelor’s or master’s degrees from the Farmington campuses of New Mexico Highlands University and the University of New Mexico.

The ceremony was important enough for Shelby Clark to delay inducing her labor so she could attend the commencement along with her mother and fellow graduate, Marci Clark. The mother and daughter sat together at the ceremony and followed one another across the commencement stage.

"It’s pretty cool," said Shelby Clark, who is nine months pregnant. "We didn’t know at the beginning (of the year), but we ended up graduating at the same time."

She graduated with a certificate in manicuring and pedicuring, and her mother earned an associate degree in liberal arts. Marci Clark, who began taking courses toward the degree in 2010, was listed on the President's Honor Roll for having a GPA of at least 3.8.

Today was the second commencement ceremony in two years for San Juan College graduate Clayton Hoyt, who earned an associate degree in diesel technology. Last spring, he received diesel mechanic repair technician certificates for light- and heavy-line repair.

"It’s made me feel pretty dang good," he said before the ceremony. "It's a big accomplishment for me."

Hoyt's graduation from San Juan College came about 15 years after he graduated from Aztec High School. He said the hard work it took to earn the associate degree was worth it because it will help his wife, Sarah Hoyt, and the couple's three teenage children.

"It’s going to make a better life for my family, and it’s exciting," said Hoyt, adding that he hopes his new degree will help him secure a higher-paying job.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye greets a graduate during the San Juan College commencement ceremony on Saturday at the college in Farmington.

Among those attended the ceremony was Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, who shook students' hands on stage and posed for photos after the ceremony.

Afterward, Begaye said he was proud to see all of the Navajo graduates.

"The future of the Navajo Nation has a solid foundation because of the effort the students put into their studies," Begaye said. "It’s incredible to see we have this many students out there and see this many students getting their degrees."

During the ceremony, both the student speaker and guest speaker addressed the determination it takes to succeed in college and beyond.

Jay Paul McWilliams, founder and president of LOGOS Resources, speaks during the San Juan College commencement ceremony on Saturday at the college in Farmington.

Jay McWilliams, founder and president of the Farmington-based oil drilling company LOGOS Resources, spoke to the graduating class about how hard work, perseverance and sacrifice molded him into the person he is today.

The San Juan College alum told students that failure is part of success. And he added that hard work is part of life, and it's never wasted because someone is always watching.

Student speaker Jessica Gomez spoke on behalf of the student body and thanked the San Juan College staff and professors for their support.

Gomez described the diploma or certification students earned as a gateway for their future success.

"We are just not receiving a piece of paper with our name on it," said Gomez, who graduated with an associate degree in elementary education. "We are going to be receiving the success that we have worked so hard to achieve."

Graduate Jessica Gomez speaks during the San Juan College commencement ceremony on Saturday at the college in Farmington.

As students lined up before the ceremony in the 9000 rooms of the Henderson Performing Arts Center, UNM graduate Lacey Vaisa said it was a dream come true to earn her bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

"All the hard work paid off," she said. "All the late nights of studying and writing papers — it was worth it," she said.

Vaisa described the six students from UNM's San Juan Center who graduated with bachelor’s degrees in elementary education as family.

"Every class that we went through, all the seminars and everything, we all had each other’s backs," Vaisa said.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.

A cluster of graduates captures the moment during the San Juan College commencement ceremony on Saturday at the college in Farmington.