Family members take different roads to graduation

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers

PORTALES — Eastern New Mexico University President Steven Gamble summed up the graduation in way that you’d expect.

“I think every one of our graduates has a unique and interesting story of how they arrived here today,” Gamble said in his closing statements.

Though he meant all of the 220 receiving degrees from the college on Saturday, he could have just as easily been talking about the three members of the Small family.

Rita Small, her son Brett and his wife Melissa each had their own separate beginning, though each ending came on the same stage at Greyhound Arena on Saturday morning.

Within the trio will eventually be three master’s degrees if all things go to plan, but the family members will be the first to admit that plans can change pretty easily.

When he graduated from Dora High School, Brett Small said he wanted to become an agriculture teacher.

“My mother’s a teacher,” said Brett, who graduated with a degree in agriculture, “and I had really good influences in high school.”

He still plans to do that, but now his plans include a wife, a job at the financial aid office and post-graduate work until he receives his master’s.

It wasn’t quite that simple for Melissa Small, who came from Magdalena High School.

“I had no clue, to be honest,” said Melissa Small, who studied agricultural sciences. She was introduced to her future husband not through mutual classes but one of Melissa Small’s former roommates. They were married in February of 2003.

Melissa Small said being a part of the Small family has helped her gain a sense of direction — she plans to do graduate work and become a speech pathologist — and has always given her a network of support.

“I felt it was a lot easier because I had excellent in-laws who are really supportive,” Melissa Small said. “That not only helped me, but it helped Brett. Whenever we were homesick, we would go over there.”

Melissa Small and her husband plan to work in a school some day, just like Rita Small does now. A special education teacher at Cameo Elementary in Clovis, Rita Small received her master’s in special education. She admits that it was different going back to college after having raised a family but it was a positive experience.

“It was fun,” Rita Small said. “Eastern’s a good place to go to school. They have some excellent teachers here.”

The next Small graduations are a few years off, but Brett Small feels that there will be a great experience upcoming as a graduate student over the next few years.

“I had a great college experience,” he said. “Being a member of the staff gives you a whole new perspective on how the college operates.”