'Excelled and risen to the top': San Juan College honors graduates in 2022 commencement

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Dee Jay Howland waved her arms in the air as she left the stage at the 2022 San Juan College commencement ceremony on May 14 in the Learning Commons Plaza.

"It feels super good. It's pretty terrific. It's a once in a lifetime kind of deal," Howland said about earning her associate degree in liberal arts.

For Howland, graduation day means being a role model to her 10-year-old daughter and taking a step toward being of service to her tribe, the Jicarilla Apache Nation.

"I want to help the reservation, my tribe," she said then added that her husband was sitting in the fifth row, waiting to receive his associate degree in building trades.

"The whole house of Howland is graduating. Me and him are graduating and in two more weeks, our daughter is graduating elementary (school)," she explained.

San Juan College graduate Chelsea Smith-Bia smiles during the 2022 commencement ceremony on May 14 in Farmington.

The timing of these accomplishments was purely accidental, she said.

"I think she is proud," Howland said about her daughter. "She about cried this morning when she was watching us get dressed. She's really looking up to us."

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The college recognized and celebrated more than 1,325 graduates, including those from New Mexico Highlands University Farmington Center and the University of New Mexico San Juan Center.

San Juan College graduates walk down the ramp during the 2022 commencement ceremony on May 14 in Farmington.

The commencement ceremony was also open to those who graduated in 2020 and 2021. The ceremony for both years was held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

College President Toni Hopper Pendergrass welcomed everyone to the event.

"We're so pleased that we can once again be together in person for graduation, and we are delighted to celebrate the class of 2022. This is truly your special day," Pendergrass said.

Although the pandemic caused many obstacles, the graduates persevered with their education, she said.

"There have been many rough roads along the way but that did not stop you. Instead, you have shown resilience, excelled and risen to the top. We applaud your amazing accomplishments," she said.

San Juan College President Toni Hopper Pendergrass welcomes everyone to the 2022 commencement ceremony on May 14 in Farmington.

Briana Logsdon was selected as this year's student speaker.

She spoke about how the pandemic shifted the college experience by closing in-person learning, eliminating resources like laboratories and the library, and doing away with study groups.

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She recalled that hours after her cohort finished their first mid-term practical exam, they got emails that announced the closure of the campus because of the coronavirus.

"We are part of the class that had to decide how badly we wanted this day," Logsdon said.

Students also faced obstacles on the personal side, she explained.

For her, it was being diagnosed in 2020 with a "multitude of rare diseases" three days before she started the physical therapist assistant program.

"I thought that was the end. However, it was only the beginning," she said adding that a greater challenge occurred the next year.

San Juan College graduates turn their tassels during the 2022 commencement ceremony on May 14 in Farmington.

"At the beginning of 2021, my year started with my mom being put on a ventilator. My little brother and I were hopeful she would recover," she said. "To our dismay, our mom never came home, and I was faced with having to be the one to decide whether or not to continue medical support."

Because of this, Logsdon stepped away from school for six months to heal and to learn how to process grief.

"Despite what we have all been through, we have overcome. I invite each of you to use what you have learned throughout all of this to lead to your higher purpose," she said.

San Juan College graduates shield themselves from the sun during the 2022 commencement ceremony on May 14 in Farmington.

Logsdon earned her associate degree in physical therapist assistant and will continue working at an outpatient clinic in Dallas.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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