New Mexico is familiar with making headlines for bad reasons. In 2018, we ranked 50th in education, 46th in overall economy, 47th in infrastructure, 44th in financial stability, and 49th in crime and correlations according to the US News and World Report.
These are not numbers to be boasting about.
Throughout high school, I remember my fellow students fantasizing about leaving the state. I had many conversations where I asked the question, “Where do you want to go for college?” and the responses were, “As far away from here as possible.”
They had good reason for wanting to leave — at first glance New Mexico isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Many of the residents have lost hope in the state, but I have not.
Although New Mexico gets a bad rep, it is not a bad place to live. The same organization that ranked us 50th in education and 49th in crime, also ranked New Mexico as 8th in quality of life.
The state's pollution health risk is the lowest in the nation. We also have relatively high community engagement and social support, both higher than the national average. This means, not only is our clean air contributing to the overall quality of life, but the friendliness of New Mexicans makes life in our state overall more enjoyable to live in.
Having clean air and friendly residents are great accomplishments, but it still doesn’t overshadow the larger issues we face, such as education and crime.
Countless people I have met, both in high school and college, have so much potential. They aspire to be doctors, lawyers, politicians, journalists and more. They are organized, driven and hard workers. They see the issues our state faces and take real steps to resolve them.
Every day I hear about another one of these graduates leaving New Mexico to pursue new opportunities. Many of New Mexico’s best and brightest feel the need to leave because of the lack of opportunity.
This phenomenon is commonly known as the “brain drain,” and we are not the only state facing this issue. People in rural areas are leaving to larger cities in search of better opportunities.
Imagine what our state could be if these people didn’t leave.
Programs like BA/MD and the short-lived New Mexico Leadership Institute recognized these issues. They realize students are leaving the state and want to incentivize them to stay. The Lottery Scholarship also serves as an incentive for New Mexican high school graduates to attend university in the state.
I challenge high school and university graduates to not leave New Mexico high and dry — even though, geographically, New Mexico already is high and dry. I challenge them to put their knowledge and ideas back into the state that made them.
I understand everyone has the inkling to go and explore new places. I have the travel bug too. So I encourage you, if you must leave, do it, but only briefly. Go out into the world to grow and learn, but then come back to apply all of your newly found knowledge.
There are always complaints about the lack of opportunity in our state. If the opportunities are hiding, go and find them. If they don’t exist, make them.
New Mexico needs us. We can’t abandon it.
Makayla Grijalva is a freelance multimedia reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MakaylaEliboria.