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NMMI graduates praised for ‘grit,’ called to service

Brig. Gen. Douglas Murray, retiring chief academic officer, accepts a plaque from Maj. Gen. Jerry Grizzle, NMMI president and superintendent, after Murray’s commencement addresses Saturday morning on the Institute’s Stapp Field. (NMMI Photo)

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Graduation exercises and a student body affected by the global pandemic took center stage Saturday as the New Mexico Military Institute held its commencement ceremonies on Stapp Field.

Brig. Gen. Douglas Murray, retiring after 14 years as the Institute’s chief academic officer and academic dean, held his “last roll call” with cadets as he delivered the keynote addresses at both ceremonies.

The graduation exercises showed some of the signs of the COVID-19 era with their outdoor setting and face coverings worn by cadets.

Murray said that the graduating classes consisted of 91 junior college cadets and 53 high school students. They included 26 junior college graduates who have been commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army, seven “dual program” students who graduated with both their high school diplomas and college associate’s degrees, and 35 cadets who hail from 12 foreign countries.

The 144 cadets receiving diplomas Saturday join 12 others who graduated in November, with that group including three commissioned Army officers.

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Murray drew inspiration from military and political leaders and poets during his remarks that stressed that cadets had chosen a life of service and leadership when they joined the Institute. He compared current NMMI graduates to those who graduated during or immediately after World War II.

He said today’s cadets, like those 75 years ago, are compelled to take on challenges, given the world they face as adults and as a result of their experiences while in school.

For 2021 students, those experiences included being one of the few schools in New Mexico to remain open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, although that meant many changes in their lives and required a two-week quarantine in their barracks during an outbreak in the fall.

“Over the past 15 months, the many difficulties, unexpected disruptions and life-changing expectations tested you,” Murray said. “You answered, you answered, by using them to become better leaders.”

He told high school cadets that they had “grit,” the combination of both perseverance and passion to achieve long-term goals, and he encouraged junior college graduates to understand that all of them have accepted commissions, not just those who are entering the Army National Guard or the Army Reserves as officers.

“The concept of commission entails commitment, service and leadership,” Murray said. “Common to both commissions — those received by ECP cadets yesterday and you today — is a commitment to serve. For them, it’s in the armed services for the nation. For you, the nature of that service is yet to be determined.”

The exercises included speeches by most of the six valedictorians and salutatorians, who thanked family, friends and faculty and shared memories of having their heads shaved when they arrived for their first semester, of staying up until midnight to study and then awaking at 4:30 a.m. for physical training, and of lasting bonds with peers and faculty.

The high school valedictorian is Francisco Felix of Mexico, and the salutatorian is Kyunghoon Yeom of South Korea.

The three junior college valedictorians are Thomas Blalock of Oklahoma, Nathaniel Garate of Washington state and Jeremi Pasamonte of Hawaii. The junior college salutatorian is Jesse Turley of New Mexico.

The ceremonies can be viewed online, with a link to the website on the Institute’s home page, www.nmmi.edu.

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