Celebrating the 2023 Northern New Mexico Super Scholars

Northern New Mexico College President Hector Balderas speaks at the gala. 

The current generation of young, high-school age students are undoubtedly growing up with challenges peculiar to their generation.  In northern New Mexico, this often means that some are growing up with a single parent or with grandparents, or if recently come from Mexico, that their parents may be unfamiliar with the English language.  They might live in one community but have to travel some distance to attend school in another. 

Add to this the barrage of social media that they must navigate, radically changing social norms, and the traditional cultures which most belong to but which are in a state of flux and possibly on the verge of disappearing altogether.  

Hector Balderas, northern New Mexico College President and keynote speaker at the annual Super Scholars gala event at the Ohkay Owingeh Casino on May 11 sponsored by the Río Grande Sun and the Century Bank, cited yet another challenge faced by our area’s young people.  Having been born and raised in remote and isolated Wagon Mound in northeastern New Mexico, he said that while growing up, he had always felt “less than” because he came from an impoverished household and out-of-the-way town that no one had ever heard of.  Needless to say, he surmounted those limitations and went on to become a formidable lawyer who took on some of the most powerful corporations in the country.

No doubt, that comment must have resonated with the 22 students, all top scholars in their graduating class who hail from remote Escalante High in Tierra Amarilla, Peñasco High in similarly remote Peñasco, and from Española Valley High in Española, a community that is always having to defend its reputation as a decent place to live.  President Balderas made their hearts swell when he mentioned that the entire region of northern New Mexico and its people exude an uncommon strength and authenticity which few other regions or peoples in the country can lay claim to due to northern New Mexico’s ancient historical roots and unique cultural ways. After having studied northern New Mexican Hispanic culture, famed cultural anthropologist, Margret Mead, wrote that it was a holistic culture possessing great integrity. 

 The beauty, poise, and self-assurance of each of these young people, in addition to their declared, interests, personal pursuits and future plans all attested to the fact that they had in fact succeeded in surmounting whatever obstacles they may have encountered on their paths.  Each has remained true to the standard of excellence to which they have consecrated themselves as well as to the loftiness of their future goals and endeavors. 

These stellar individuals are Katy Gaytan, Jayden Martínez, Guadalupe Zavala-Orozco, Unica May, Isiah Atencio, Nicole Velázquez, Destiny M. Martínez, Jalen Martínez, Robyn García, Sophia Atencio, Deshaun Garduño, Daisy Baca, Dominic Sandoval, Gabriel Law, Tomás C. Atencio,  Brycelyn Martínez,  Madison Martínez, Rhyen  Vigil, Hailey Archuleta, Nayelly Granillo-Ríos, Tommy Romero,  and Alexis Baca Salinas.

As was clearly demonstrated in the evening’s ceremonies, each student was able to thrive not just because of their own aptitudes and self-discipline, but because each had a kind of “North Guiding Star” in the form of a teacher, mentor or community member who had inspired them to reach great heights. As they each ascended onto the stage, where they were presented with a graceful, free-standing, translucent plaque studded in stars, they were received and congratulated by these same guiding figures in their lives. The closing remarks by Don Gonzáles, Chairman of the Board for Century Bank, “In the future, I hope to see all of your names written in lights,” perfectly encapsulated the sentiments of two other people whose belief in the promise of the younger generation had prompted them to support this on-going program already in its third year: Richard Connor, publisher of the Río Grande Sun, and Thomas Martinez, SVP/Market President for Century Bank. 

For the moment, this promise is written in their future plans to become doctors, government officials, pharmacists, biologists, engineers, accountants, lawyers, marine, biologists, military personnel, social workers, psychologists, sonographers, conservation management specialists, ultrasound technicians, nutritionists, athletic trainers and much more. With an entire community standing behind these individuals, it is very likely that their aspirations will come to fruition. 

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