Dreamstyle Arena will likely be packed Friday, but not with basketball fans. The long-awaited Fall 2017 commencement is finally here. To help honor graduates, Faith Roessel will be this semester's commencement speaker. Roessel graduated from the University of New Mexico School of Law in 1981 and is currently practicing law. The Daily Lobo had the chance to chat with her about her connection to UNM.
Q: How did your time at UNM influence your life?
A: Well, it got me on my career path of becoming a lawyer. It helped me forge relationships with my peers that have lasted to this day. I look back on my law professors with a smile on my face, because it was a love/hate relationship. They pushed, I struggled. They demanded excellence, I worked harder. In the end, I owe them for what I gained as a person and a lawyer. I am in awe of my classmates and who, and what, they have become. I am from the Southwest and Navajo, so UNM fit the bill. It had a diverse student body and professors. I found a community that reinforced my connection to Indian country and how the law can be a catalyst for change — for the better.
Q: To you, how has being a part of the Navajo Nation shaped your life and education?
A: I am Navajo and was born and raised on the Navajo Reservation. Our home community is Round Rock, Arizona. My parents, the late Ruth and Robert Roessel, were teachers, and we moved around to schools in and around the Chinle Valley. Who I am is based on my upbringing. Lack of running water, housing, electricity — the list is endless — yet those inequities inspired me to be a lawyer. Going off to college was not easy for me and my siblings. My sister became a medical doctor, although our high school did not have a science lab. My brother became a civil engineer, yet our high school did not offer higher level math. The educational playing field was not — and is still not — level. We knew it and always felt like we were playing catch up. Looking back, I owe my parents a great deal of credit, because they got their five children through college, law school, medical school and more. They told us, “You are as good as anyone else,” and, “You get as good an education as you put in.” Words I still apply in my life. I am as good as anyone else. I am rewarded with a result due to the effort I put in. I hope I can share that message with the graduates this week, and I am grateful to UNM for giving me the opportunity.
Q: What does being the Fall 2017 commencement speaker mean to you?
A: I have to say it means a lot. I was floored when I was asked. When you are asked to give back, you don't hesitate. Maybe it is where I am now in my life — I am more reflective and want to share what I have learned.
Q: Why is it important to you to come back to your alma mater as the commencement speaker?
A: It is coming home. Who wouldn't want to return home? The added bonus is being in The Pit. I played basketball in college — I hope I don't get distracted with daydreaming that I am at the free throw line and the game is tied.
Q: What are you hoping to get across to students during your speech?
A: Even though The Pit is huge, I want to connect with the students. I want them to know I was where they are now. I was excited, scared and overwhelmed with the thought of, “What do I do now?” My intent is to give a perspective that says, “You are going to make it.” Those chairs will be filled with graduates who will make a difference in this world. The potential to me is mind-boggling — who they are now, what they will do, who they will become. I am interested in them as a whole person — not just what job they will get (or) how much money they will make. I want them to know it is as important to care about others. Find ways to make the world a better place. My optimism for tomorrow is based on what I see in the young people today. My Lobos will not let me down.
Q: What would your advice be to students who are graduating?
A: Where do I start? Very simply, you have to believe in yourself. Be proud of yourself. Then take that and believe that you are worth it. It doesn't matter if you don't get the first job you go for, or you don't get into the grad school you hoped for — what matters is you are trying. You are pushing yourself, using your skills and the UNM degree you fought for, that is your ticket to get in the door. When you walk through that door think of yourself as a student again, ready to learn. Life is your best and hardest teacher. You can be sure there will be setbacks, but never give up. Find a creative way to overcome your obstacle and see it as an opportunity. I could go on, but one final thing that I too have to remind myself of, don't let your mind run away with you. By this I mean, stop those negative thoughts. It prevents us from being present, being open and really seeing things that are before you. These moments escape us because we are too preoccupied with mental chatter.
Q: What would your advice be to undergraduates who are not graduating this Fall?
A: Stay in school. Use every resource at your disposal to help you. Don't be shy. Advocate for yourself, because you are entitled to get the education you deserve. Find a fun outlet, whether a rec sport, art, community service or something else that nourishes the rest of you so there is a better balance in your life. Make friends and be a friend. Don't worry if you do not yet know your path — your experiences will guide you. Keep seeking them. And above all, keep your head up and your heart strong.
Madison Spratto is a news editor for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Madi_Spratto.