New Mexico Military Institute cadet Kavon Sharifi, co-valedictorian of the Institute’s junior college graduates, receives a big hug from his grandmother, Georgia Summers, of Midland, Texas, following Saturday’s commencement. (Jeff Tucker Photo)
“Grit,” defined by Merriam-Webster as “firmness of mind or spirit” and “unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger,” was the word of refrain at Saturday’s commencement programs at the New Mexico Military Institute.
Indeed, the Institute’s 120th commencement program Saturday had its own challenges, as the program was divided into two sessions and held indoors at Pearson Auditorium due to inclement weather.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-Hobbs, a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, gave two addresses Saturday, one to the Institute’s junior college graduates in the morning, followed by another speech to the Institute’s high school graduates later in the morning.
Pearce joked he was asked by an Institute official if he believed in free speech.
Pearce said he replied that he did.
“Well, will you give another one?” Pearce quoted the Institute official.
Pearce told the graduates about a harrowing experience he had piloting a malfunctioning, small civilian plane at night during a storm, and how it taught him grit.
“At that time, I just wanted to give up. I wanted to just let go,” Pearce said. “That’s what life will do. It will test us to extremes.”
Pearce told the graduates that failures are not permanent, their abilities to learn were not fixed, and that they should not be reluctant to venture out of their comfort zones, “because that’s where the great things in life lie.”
“There’s one predictor of success, and that is grit,” Pearce said. “One of the saddest stories I hear is from people telling me what they could have been. Make sure you get into the arena and fight everyday.”
Hundreds of people packed the Pearson Auditorium for both sessions Saturday.
Junior college co-valedictorian Kavon Sharifi, of Troy, Texas, said each of the graduates had learned from each other.
“This is the proverbial fork in the road that, for some of us, could not have come soon enough,” said Sharifi, a three-year student at the Institute. “With your RAT (recruit-at-training) buddies and other fellow cadets, you have formed a special bond, a bond that no parent, TLA (troop leadership advisor), or somebody who has never experienced it could understand. We have grown with each other, we have taught each other, and we have all learned from each other. Every cadet with whom I have crossed paths has taught me something different.”
Sharifi, who will go on to attend Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, said those that struggled at times at the “Old Post” had learned a valuable lesson about perseverance.
“This day is not just for those who have superior academics, those who received a commission, or those who have signed to play at good schools,” Sharifi said. “This day is also for the tour squad rangers, for those cadets who have been on disciplinary, honor or academic probation, for those cadets who may have found themselves appealing to the staff in order to stay here, for those cadets who have been demoted, and those who had slipped so low in the corps or classroom that they were on the cusp of being sent home.”
“Guess what? We are all here. We are all walking across the same stage, being held in the same regard, and earning the title of NMMI alumnus. Our experience here, and what we did to get to this point, however, is what makes up our own personal achievement.
“In closing, I want to remind everybody who is graduating today that even if we never join the military, everything we have done here has a practical application in the real world.”
Brig. Gen. Richard Geraci, the commandant of cadets, dean of students, and a 1975 Institute graduate, said the cadets were “men and women of grit and character.”
High school co-valedictorians Javier Bojorquez Robinson Bours, of Navojoa, Sonora, Mexico, and Susanna Ilona Pesonen, of Newbury Park, Calif., told their classmates they had achieved a significant milestone in their lives.
“We have accomplished something most people have not,” Bours said. “We are ready to face whatever is ahead of us, but we are not scared.”
Pesonen was of one of two cadets who graduated Saturday from both the high school and junior college. She was a co-valedictorian of both schools and will attend the University of California at Berkeley.
“We have learned to say goodbye to people we did not think we could live without,” Pesonen said. “So today, take with you all the lessons we have learned together.”
Cadet Col. Sara Brown, regimental commander, will also attend Texas Tech.
“No matter what we have gone through here together, we have arrived,” said Brown, of Santa Rosa. “You have earned something that no one can take from you. Today, you have won. It has been a great honor to be your regimental commander.”
Brig. Gen. Douglas Murray, the academic dean at the Institute, said of the 191 graduates Saturday, 104 were junior college graduates. He said each graduate had completed a rigorous curriculum and the Institute had “prepared them mentally, physically, morally and given them grit.”
“There is a debate of whether leadership can be taught,” Murray said. “But there is no debate it can be learned.”