Diego Montoya, a 29-year-old American studies major, will be receiving his bachelor’s degree after attending school on and off for nearly 10 years.
Montoya, in the midst of pursuing his degree, has accomplished a feat most people in their twenties can't say that they've done, or even thought about.
At the age of 25, Montoya was elected mayor of Magdalena — a small town located in southwestern New Mexico with a population of roughly 1,000 residents.
As mayor, Montoya had many responsibilities, but he said his main purpose was to “listen to the community.”
His time in office has gone on to guide him in other facets of his life.
“It was definitely a journey and definitely an experience, for sure,” Montoya said. “You get to learn a lot, even in a small town.”
Montoya said, since the position of mayor is a voluntary one, he got to work at the school in Magdalena often, where he helped out high school students with the process of applying to college.
For Montoya, working with people is something he's always wanted to do. He said working with children is what motivated him to go back and finish his degree.
“Working with them, I just saw that the kids really wanted to do something,” Montoya said. “And that's when I said, ‘You know, I have to finish my degree.’”
Another driving factor for Montoya’s life-changing decision was his late father Manuel Montoya.
Montoya said his father was a good man who wanted nothing but the best for him — and that meant getting educated at the college level.
“My dad wasn’t really a school guy,” Montoya said, with a laugh. “But he really wanted me to get schooled and educated, because he knew that education was the way to do it. He knew education was the future.”
Even when Montoya’s father was sick, he made it a point to visit him every day before class. And he continued to do that until his father died in 2008.
For Montoya, he said memories with his father are as clear as day. He recalled one of them.
“We would go to the post office everyday when I was younger, and he'd go check the mail, and he'd talk to his friends in Spanish,” Montoya reminisced. “And I always thought that was a cool bonding time… he'd teach me a couple words here and there.”
Montoya said he gained an interest in New Mexican music, too, citing his favorite artist as Al Hurricane. According to Montoya, listening to Spanish and New Mexican music is more than a hobby to him — it’s a passion.
Some of that passion stems from three years of working at a local radio a station, KANW, where he said they played mostly Mexican and New Mexican music.
The experience he gained through his walk of life has helped him complete a 10-year journey that will culminate in walking across the stage and reaching for his degree.
Montoya had a message for anyone who might feel they don’t have the drive to finish school and earn a degree.
“Keep at it,” Montoya said. “If you find something that is a passion, you have to keep going… keep doing it.”
Matthew Narvaiz is a sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers women's basketball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @matt_narvaiz.