The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

By Kevin Wilson

Starting a new chapter


Last updated 5/17/2021 at 4:23pm

Kevin Wilson

Col. Robert Masaitis, commander of the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon Air Force Base, told Clovis Community College graduates they would never stop learning and to always stay calm, or to at least give others the appearance of calm.

CLOVIS - Students graduate every year, even if they don't always get a graduation ceremony. Leaders, Clovis Community College speakers said, never stop learning.

The college had its first in-person graduation since 2019 Friday, with a socially distanced group of about 175 blue-robed CCC students getting a metaphorical pat on the back even as COVID-safe protocols prevented congratulatory handshakes from President Charles Nwankwo.

"Today marks the end of a chapter in your lives, and the beginning of a new one," said Nwankwo, conducting his first graduation since he arrived in February 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out graduation and other in-person events. "We know you will have many other successes in your next chapters, but right now I hope you're taking a moment to enjoy it."

Audience members were spaced out in the stands of the Curry County Events Center, while students sat in a series of rows six feet apart in the 90-minute ceremony.

Col. Robert Masaitis, commander of the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon Air Force Base, served as the commencement speaker.

Before arriving at Cannon, Masaitis said he received less than two weeks of training to become a wing commander, not because it was an easy job but because he'd spent years learning how to handle tough situations without panicking - or at least, hiding your panic and "sounding good on the radio." And the pandemic provided quite a sound check, as the only thing he really knew about a pandemic was that as base commander he would be responsible for it.

"It was uncharted territory for most of us," Masaitis said. "Adding to the pressure, there weren't things that could just stop."

The last year-plus, like many other experiences, has reinforced what Masaitis has found to be the definition of leadership - nobody likes the decision you make, and that doesn't change if you make a different decision.

Student speaker Aracely Quiroz, who received a radiology tech degree, said the commencement was a demonstration that anything could be accomplished through teamwork and drive.

"I know there were a lot of long nights," Quiroz said, "a lot of tears and many 'I'll drop out if you drop out' texts. We had the drive to build a better tomorrow, the drive to help others, the drive to be independent."

Nwankwo, a community college graduate himself, noted various challenges students overcame while mentioning that 39% of the students getting degrees or certificates were first-generation college students. He also thanked the friends and family members who supported the students, and the faculty that learned to be flexible as they converted classes to online models.

Masaitis, who has four master's degrees, told the students their learning didn't stop when they got their degree. But the four degrees, Masaitis said, meant he's heard enough commencement speakers to know his role on the night was one of very fleeting pressure.

"I would guess 100% of you will not remember who I am or what I said a year from now," Masaitis said, "so I've got that going for me."


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