Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell Special Services Occupational Training program graduates let off some last-minute steam before commencement ceremonies, Thursday. (Mark Wilson Photo)
More than 70 Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell students with disabilities graduated Thursday afternoon with their forest green graduation caps in the air and certificates of Occupational Training in hand.
â€œWe did it,â€ Cassandra Davis, one of three student speakers, told her classmates during the ceremony at the Performing Arts Center. â€œToday is not a goodbye to ourÂ friends, but hello to another chapter in our lives.â€
The ceremony marked the 25th graduating class of the Special Services Occupational Training program at ENMU-R that teaches students who are disabled skills necessary in the work force and helps them be able to compete for employment. For some, like student speaker Hannah Beller, the program was a miracle.
â€œWhen I was in high school, I was discouraged,â€â€ˆBeller started her speech, adding that she thought her disabilities would prevent her from pursuing higher education and from being employable.
But the program, which is based around three semesters of training, boosted her self-confidence and independence, she says, and gave her skills and experience by placing her in internships at both Washington Avenue Elementary School and Roswell Public Library. She graduated Thursday with a certificate of occupational training in office skills.
â€œThis school literally has made all my hopes and dreams a reality,â€â€ˆshe said. â€œI am very grateful that there are people in the world who help people like me.â€
The program offers skills in a variety of areas, such as food service, child care, auto mechanics and veterinary technician assistant. The most popular areas for graduates this year were child care attendant (15 graduates) and food service (13 graduates).
Child care attendants learn how to work safely with children, and about child development and education, special needs children and the emotional and social development of children. Attendants can go on to obtain employment at child care centers or schools as a teaching assistant.
Food service graduates learned about food safety, equipment, flavorings, basic cooking techniques, roles and responsibilities in a professional kitchen, introduction to food safety certification and cooking principles. Those graduates can obtain employment in a professional kitchen, restaurant and resorts.
Mayor Del Jurney, the commencement speaker, congratulated the class and said they were a source of â€œpride and joyâ€ for the city.
â€œIâ€ˆthink youâ€™ve proven to yourself what you can do, and what is important to you,â€ he said. â€œThis is a great day.â€
The Special Services Occupational Training program boasts a 75 percent success rate of employment placement of graduates, on average.
In order to graduate, students must also complete classes in independent living, recognizing conflict and conflict management, physical education, CPRâ€ˆand first aid. Driverâ€™s education is optional.
Many students were sad to say goodbye, but Davis reminded them at the end of her speech, â€œWith many memories, we end this chapter, but a new one awaits us.â€