Students prepare for spring graduation ceremony

May 6, 2013 by Amanda Bradford, NMSU News Center

Savannah Sanchez holds a photo of her father, Army Lt. Col. John G. Sanchez, who is currently deployed to Afghanistan and will miss his daughter’s graduation. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Savannah Sanchez holds a photo of her father, Army Lt. Col. John G. Sanchez, who is currently deployed to Afghanistan and will miss his daughter’s graduation. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Broadcast Advisory: Watch a graduation video shout-out from Lt. Col. John G. Sanchez to Savannah Sanchez at this link:

After a whirlwind week of final exams, internship interviews and thesis defenses, more than 2,000 New Mexico State University students are set to mark the completion of their studies.

Of the 2,169 students set to receive their bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degrees, the registrar’s office estimates about 1,600 will participate in commencement ceremonies at the Pan American Center on May 11.

The morning ceremony, scheduled for 9 a.m., will include undergraduate and graduate degree candidates from the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and the College of Health and Social Services.

The 2 p.m. ceremony will include candidates from the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Business and the College of Extended Learning.

Both ceremonies will take place at the university’s Pan American Center, and each one is expected to last about two hours.

While students don’t have to walk across the Pan Am stage to receive their degrees, many who choose to do so find that it’s an important moment for their whole family. Marisela Marquez, event planner with the registrar’s office, has helped plan commencement ceremonies for the past seven years. She is also graduating this year with a bachelor’s degree in applied studies with a minor in business administration, management and marketing and an associate degree in pre-business. She also holds associate degrees in general studies and business office technology. She said her family – both the one that raised her and the one she is raising – has been a big part of her success.

“Being a single parent, I have worked hard to get my degree to be a better role model for my daughters,” she said. “I’m not the first in my family to get a degree, but I’m the first as a single parent. I have had the support of my family throughout my educational career, which I am truly grateful for.”

When Savannah V. Sanchez walks across the stage to celebrate her achievement – a bachelor’s degree in education – she’ll be keenly feeling the absence of one family member who very much wanted to be there: her father, Army Lt. Col. John G. Sanchez. He’s currently serving as chief of brigade mental health for the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan. He’s not scheduled to return home until September, but his thoughts will be in Las Cruces when his daughter’s big day arrives.

“My hope for my Savannah is that she is happy in life doing what she wants to do,” he said in an email from Afghanistan. “She has a passion for teaching kids, and if she can make this world a better place for them, that is great. It took awhile for Savannah to figure out where God was leading her, and I think she found the answer and will make her family even prouder than we are now.”

Savannah, 23, grew up all over the country, as many children of military families do. She graduated high school in San Antonio, Texas, and chose to study special education at NMSU after attending college classes in Hawaii, as well. You could say teaching is in Savannah’s blood, her father said, noting that her grandmother, uncle and mother are all educators. Savannah’s mother, Celine Sanchez, has been a special education teacher for 23 years.

“I have worked very hard throughout the years to get the best grades possible,” Savannah said. “I, of course, have had my ups and downs, but in the end I know that those few struggles I went through have impacted the person that I have become today.”

After graduation, Savannah hopes to work as a special education or general education elementary teacher. She also plans to attend graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in social work.

Though her father will miss Saturday’s ceremony, Savannah’s mother and her younger sisters, Delilah, 20, and Mariah, 13, will be there to cheer her on. And Dad’s pride is undiminished by the distance.

“If I was in Las Cruces for her graduation, what would I say?” he mused. “That is a great question. My words would be that I am very proud of all her hard work and simply that I love her.

“A couple hours later, after the emotions have died down, I might say it is time to start paying your own bills!” he joked.

Savannah credits her parents with offering the support and guidance that have gotten her to this important milestone. Her father’s deployment has been hard to deal with, but she said she knows his support is unwavering.

“I still talk to my dad every day, but it is not the same as being able to drive to their house in El Paso and hug him,” she said. “I have been blessed with an amazing family and my dad holds us all together.”

No tickets are required for guests attending commencement ceremonies. The Pan Am Center will open an hour before each ceremony and seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Guests requiring special assistance should call 575-646-4413.

To avoid traffic congestion, graduates should plan to arrive at the east side of the Pan Am Center an hour before their ceremony to pick up their name cards. Arrowhead Drive will be closed to traffic between Triviz Drive and Stewart Street.

Media covering the event should pick up media passes in the coordinating center tent in Lot 32, east of the Pan Am Center. Staff will be available at the tent throughout the ceremonies.

For more information, including a map with designated parking areas, visit the NMSU commencement website at

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