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Graff commended for years of youth mentorship

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Lt. Col. Jonathan Graff describes being driven by a desire to help youth achieve their goals. Others say he has been a “phenomenal” leader. After nine years at New Mexico Military Institute, he and his family are moving to Germany. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

The Leadership Roswell Alumni Association gives annual awards to people who have made outstanding contributions to the community. This year, the group has honored four people. Starting with this edition, the Roswell Daily Record will profile one recipient each day.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Graff didn’t have much time to display his Commitment to Youth Award on his wall in Roswell.

He received it only a few days before the scheduled move to Germany today with his wife, Sandra, and the three youngest of their six children.

“I have always had a passion for helping young people, for teaching, instruction and training,” he said. “I always saw it as moving to see them achieve their goals.”

For five years, Graff served as the commandant of cadets at the New Mexico Military Institute. He was the lead officer in charge of cadet mentoring, morale, discipline and leadership training. For three years before that, he had served at the high school and junior college as the director of its military preparatory program and a professor of military science.

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Now Graff will work with the Army Headquarters at Wiesbaden, Germany, after a two-week COVID-19 quarantine. It is a country he is familiar with, having been an Olmsted Scholar at the Technical Institute of Dresden in 2000 after a couple of years in the Army and attaining the rank of captain.

His formal degrees include a bachelor’s degree in Russian language, earned in 1991 from West Point, also known as the U.S. Military Academy, and a master’s degree in military science from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

“It was a bittersweet experience to get the offer,” he said. “While we were looking for something for after this job, we didn’t expect it to come so soon. We thought it would be two or three years.”

His 28 years affiliated with the military has taken him and his family to many places, including North Carolina, California, Oklahoma, and Kansas. He also served a while in Iraq.

He said the military environment is infused with a servant-leadership model, which he said means to seek to help others. The best way to achieve any mission, he said, is to train the people you lead to work effectively and safely.

“In a school environment, in a learning environment, you’re basically doing the same thing in preparing them for life,” he said. “You want to prepare them with all the tools they need to be successful wherever they are, not just in school.”

He said he was shocked to learn about his recent honor.

“It was something I would have thought someone else would get because I know there are many wonderful people here who do many great things,” he said. “It is nice to be recognized and to be honored by people I respect a lot.”

Graff went through the Leadership Roswell program in 2016. He then served on its board as an alumnus and helped with its Teen Leadership Institute, as well as other activities and programs. He has worked in the community in many other ways, as well, including acting in local theater productions.

He joins 23 others who have received the Commitment to Youth Award since 1999. They include educators, coaches, judges and the leaders of local nonprofits serving youth.

Amy McVay Tellez, the current co-chair of the Leadership Roswell Alumni Association and board president for Character Counts! of Chaves County, said Graff epitomizes leadership and integrity.

“What I admire most about Jon is that he embraces every opportunity to the highest standards, impacting the lives of future generations with class and distinction,” she wrote in her nomination of him. “Jon celebrates the talents and treasures of our youth with numerous programs, while showcasing numerous talents of his own.”

Maj. Gen. Jerry Grizzle, president and superintendent of the New Mexico Military Institute, also had high praise for Graff.

“We hate to lose him. He has been a tremendous commandant,” Grizzle said. “He has brought a level of leadership to the corps that was really needed. Probably one of the greatest things he is leaving as a legacy is that he has been involved in the development of a leadership certificate that you can earn through New Mexico Military Institute. Col. Graff has been the author and architect of that structure. We are actually applying next year for an associate’s degree in leadership, and he has been the architect behind all of that. His commitment to leadership and development of character has been phenomenal. We are really going to miss him. He is going to be very hard to replace.”

The length of the Germany assignment isn’t known, but Graff said it probably will be for at least a couple of years. He and his wife will stay in contact with many people here, he said. They probably will return once in a while, as their oldest son lives here with his family, which includes a young child. Two other of the Graff children are attending college now. Their three youngest will be experiencing Germany for the first time.

“It is nice to experience a different culture and learn how to appreciate how other people look at things, I think,” he said. “I have ancestors that come from that area, so, for me, it is a little bit of reaching back to my personal family history.”

He also said he and his family look forward to being able to travel more once in Europe.

Graff said they will miss the Ol’ Post, as the NMMI grounds are known to its people, as well as the city of Roswell, the place that they have called home the longest. He also anticipates feeling a bit nostalgic about the area’s green chile and unique festivals.

“I have always felt ever since I have been here that Roswell is just on the cusp of doing some amazing things,” he said. “There are a lot of great things going on out there, and I hope that they continue to go on and people keep volunteering and putting forth the great efforts to make these good things happen.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.