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Graduates ready to ‘move mountains with their lives’

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“As these graduates have proven, they can go out and move mountains with their lives,” says businessman and community leader Timothy Jennings, third from left, the commencement speaker at the 32nd annual graduation ceremony of the Special Services Occupational Training Program of Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell. Other speakers and ENMU-R leaders at Thursday’s event are, from left, Dr. Ken Maguire, vice president of Academic Affairs; parent Laura Thielke; graduate Dezirae Moore; graduate Lisa Lombardi; and Jeremy L. Martin, director of Special Services. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Take it from a parent and a community leader who knows. The students diagnosed with disabilities who complete the Special Services program at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell have a unique level of commitment.

“Everybody can do something, and, as these graduates have proven, they can go out and move mountains with their lives,” said Timothy Jennings.

Jennings was the commencement speaker at the 32nd annual graduation ceremony Thursday afternoon for the Special Services Occupational Training Program, held on the ENMU-R campus. Forty-two students received occupational certificates for having acquired independent living skills as well as career skills in animal health care, child care, food services, office work and stocking and merchandising.

Jennings, a rancher and businessman who spent 34 years as a New Mexico state senator, has been a longtime advocate of the program, which started in 1986 and has graduated about 1,286 students.

Part of the reason Jennings feels the way he does is that his daughter attended about 20 years ago, before continuing on to long-term jobs in the health field and child care. But another reason is that he is aware that those with disabilities are among the “most discriminated” in society, often blocked from employment or other opportunities.

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Dezirae Moore of Carlsbad and Lisa Lombardi of Eagle, Colorado — student speakers chosen by a group that evaluated submitted speeches — already have jobs lined up. Moore will work as a pet groomer in Carlsbad, and Lombardi will be a child care attendant in Roswell. Moore also plans to attend New Mexico State University at Carlsbad in the fall.

Moore told fellow students that she not only learned job, interviewing and relationship skills but was encouraged throughout her two years as she earned two certificates to be responsible for herself as an adult. She said she was taught to deal better with stress, to take care of her physical well-being and to gain confidence using her right arm, which she did not use often before attending ENMU-R.

“I am a completely different person than I was when I arrived here,” she said. “I will cherish every moment that I had here, and I will remember every one of you.”

Lombardi thanked her instructors for teaching her persistence in the face of others’ discouragement, accountability and the ability to laugh and not take herself or situations too seriously.

“I was scared in coming here and being here on my own, learning new things and meeting new people,” said Lombardi. “I was scared of getting hurt and failing; but, if you never get a chance to try something, you will never learn. And it is okay to be scared, but it is not okay to give up.”

Laura Thielke, a nursing instructor and the mother of graduate Tanya Thielke, remembered that her daughter reacted to hearing about the ENMU-R program with one of the first signs of enthusiasm she had shown since high school graduation. To Tanya, it meant the ability to experience the educational and college living experiences her siblings had.

Thielke said she has noticed during the past year a marked increase in her daughter’s self-confidence, communication skills, relationship skills and ability to self-advocate. And she said that she and other parents credited “caring, loving” faculty; the independent living training; the support of the Roswell community, especially employers; and the opportunities provided for social interactions.

“We actually can’t wait to see what happens next,” Thiekle said. “We expect that she will find employment in child care as she moves back to our hometown of Fort Worth, and she plans to pursue her dream of living independently with, as those of you who know Tanya, lots and lots of pets, and especially a French bulldog.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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