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Former White House newsman talks politics, education

Julia Diaz, 18, of Roswell takes the chance to get a photo with retired ABC News White House correspondent and former New Mexico Military Institute cadet Sam Donaldson, standing next to her. They are seen at the Cowboy Bell Scholarship Fund annual fundraising and donor recognition dinner Sunday night at the First United Methodist Church. Diaz is among the 121 current recipients of the scholarships, awarded by a committee of the church. A Goddard High School graduate, she will attend Texas Tech University in the fall. She is shown with her mother, Amanda Diaz, Jim Ball, second from right; and Cowboy Bell Scholarship Fund Committee Chairman Lee Harvard. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Former White House correspondent, New Mexico native and New Mexico Military Institute cadet Sam Donaldson told local scholarship recipients and their donors that the funds are a blessing as the young adults pursue what he described as a valuable endeavor of higher education.

“Today we need educated people in this country, as well as any country, perhaps more than ever before because education is the difference between making it and not making,” Donaldson said during a Sunday evening speech at the annual fundraising and donor recognition dinner of the Cowboy Bell Scholarship Fund held at the First United Methodist Church.
“The days when I was born and certainly the days when my father was born, you could be someone without a formal education,” he said. “You can’t really do that today. The world has changed.”
This year, about 121 recent graduates and current college students have received scholarships of $600, $300 each semester. All Chaves County and Artesia high school graduates are eligible if they enroll in a postsecondary academic or training program and if they complete the application, which this year included an essay about how the students intend to use their educations to contribute to their communities. Students can receive the funds for up to eight semesters.
Now in its fifth year, the dinner is the major fundraising event for the scholarship fund, although donations are made throughout the year, said Kati Yates, the scholarship committee secretary and First United Methodist Church employee. In its 40 year history, the fund has provided 6,920 scholarships totaling $1.53 million. The fund is named after the bell that cowboys donated to the church in 1895 in thanks for the hosting of a revival. The name now signifies the church’s support for the community.
This year’s recipients indicated in their introductions at the beginning of the dinner that they would be attending more than 11 different two-year and four-year colleges in New Mexico, Texas and Colorado.
Danielle Hubbard and Logan Harrell, both of Roswell, expressed gratitude. Hubbard, a Goddard High School graduate, will attend Dona Ana Community College in the fall, after having spent a year at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell. She is studying diagnostic medical stenography. Harrell of Roswell graduated from an online high school academy and will attend Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell to earn a veterinary technician certificate.

“This definitely will help relieve a financial burden,” said Hubbard, while Harrell agreed with Donaldson that the funds are a blessing.
Donaldson, who now divides his time between Albuquerque and a ranch in Hondo, talked not only about his childhood in New Mexico and some of the lessons he learned while attending New Mexico Military Institute, but also shared recollections about the presidents and political issues he covered while a national correspondent for ABC News. His anecdotes about Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton showed some of the changing political and socioeconomic situation of the nation as the presidents dealt with international conflict, economic problems and personal troubles.
He recalled that when he started federal government workers and legislators were often viewed favorably, because government offices and federal programs were seen as a benefit to the public. While calling himself an optimist about the American people and the future of the nation, he also bemoaned the current political environment where negotiation and compromise are eschewed.
“You all know we are in a very difficult time. For various reasons, we are at each other’s throats, to some extent,” he said. “We don’t want to sit down with one another. We don’t want to negotiate. … We have to get back to working with one another.”
Toward the start of his speech, he talked about a moral lesson he had learned while at the Institute. “A man said to the universe, ‘Sir, I exist.’ ‘However,’ replied the universe, ‘that creates no sense of obligation in me whatsoever,’ meaning that you may think that the world is yours … but the world, you will find out, if you haven’t already, will say, so what?”
That lesson was reinforced at the end of the speech when Donaldson explained why cooperation among legislators and elected officials matters.
“We want to keep our place at the top of the heap in the world,” he said, “but there are so many other players now that we just think, ‘Hey, I’ve said to the world, I am the United States of America, and the world is going to say to us, ‘However, that creates no sense of obligation in me. I’m Chinese and I’m building nuclear submarines now,’ or ‘I’m (Kim Jong-Un) and I’ve got missiles that can reach you.’ And so we have to stay on top of it. We can’t win by fighting each other.”

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.