College life and classes can be difficult for anyone, but the 48 graduates of Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell’s Special Services Occupational Program had to navigate their way through academics and on-the-job training while also coping with significant physical, mental or learning challenges to receive certificates.
“The program here at ENMU-R is a model for the nation,” said Deborah Dominguez-Clark, special education director of the New Mexico Public Education Department, the keynote speaker at the program’s 33rd graduation ceremony Thursday afternoon on the campus. “I am impressed with the staff that ensures equitable opportunities for students with disabilities.”
She repeated the phrase “connect, connect, connect” several times to emphasize the importance of building connections with others in life.
Other speakers included Patrick and Sharon Westerfield, parents of Frank Westerfield, who received a certificate in stocking and merchandising. The father talked about their own family histories, which included being some of the earliest pioneer families in New Mexico, and urged the graduates to be courageous and self-challenging pioneers as well.
Two students, Eric Heitschmidt, who earned a certificate in stocking and merchandising, and Emmett Prins, who received his certificate in building maintenance, also gave talks.
Heitschmidt spoke about his training at Farmer’s Market and the New Mexico Military Institute, his roommate, and playing a virtual reality game around Roswell. “I want to thank all my friends, family and teachers for supporting me for my first year here. I will certainly come back to ENMU-R for a second year here. So ready or not, here I come again.”
Prins, who said he plans to work in a veterinarian office, talked about his personal development, growing from being afraid to meet new people to being willing to talk on stage. “My advice to other students is to pay attention to what is going on in life,” he said, “and listen to your teachers. Most of all, enjoy life.”
Students in the program also can receive certificates in animal health care, child care, food service and office skills.