December for most people signifies Christmas. But for a little more than 200 Eastern New Mexico University students, the month marked a grand achievement in their life.
ENMU held their 123rd Commencement Convocation Saturday morning in Greyhound Arena.
The arena seats were filled with families and friends of graduates beaming with pride for their loved ones accomplishments.
People attempted to hold down towering balloons as they muffled their screams during solemn moments of the ceremony, such as commencement speaker Kathleen Donalson's address.
Donalson stressed harboring the strength to get over somber times and to live with hope and integrity to reach success.
"Do you wish to be successful?" Donalson asked graduates. "Then you must choose to forgive ... you must rise above your circumstances and conduct yourself with integrity. You must understand that whatever else may fail, your personal integrity is always in your hands."
Donalson, a self-proclaimed country girl at heart, used a not so traditional reference to the reality television show "Duck Dynasty" to tie in her message. The show follows a family from Louisiana who became wealthy on the sale of their duck calls.
"So, how did they become so successful? Well, in my opinion, it was the Duck Dynasty philosophy, 'Do what you love and do it with pride and passion,' even if it is making duck calls," Donalson said. "Keep those important close to you; those Louisiana brothers treasure their family. Finally, end your day with faith."
Here is how some graduates celebrated their big day:
• Danni Zhang's first time coming to America was when she stepped foot on ENMU's campus. Originally from, Chongqing, China, Zhang came here to study broadcast journalism.
"I'll never forget the time I spent with News 3 New Mexico as Director for a semester," Zhang said.
She has plans to go to China with the skills she's learned at ENMU in hopes of landing a producing job for a news station.
"Being here taught me how to control the newsroom and to be confident," Zhang said.
What put the cherry on top of her graduation sundae was that her parents traveled nearly a day from China to see her walk the stage.
"Our daughter is the most important thing to us," said Zhang's mother Juan Liao.
• Former ENMU football player Curtis Jackson of College Station, Texas, said his best memories at ENMU were all the things he and his teammates did around town.
"It's such a small town, we made the time go by faster together," Jackson said.
He studied community education and says he already has a coaching job lined up back home in Texas.
"Eventually, I want to be a Division 1 college football coach," Jackson said.
• Tech Sgt. Luis Mejia balanced school, being a father and having a full-time military career for the three years he was a student at ENMU.
Originally from Los Angeles and stationed at Cannon Air Force Base, Mejia studied computer science and math and graduated with honors.
"It takes a lot of time to do it all but I had my priorities set," Mejia said. "I like the faculty because they worked with me.
Mejia's wife and three children had faith in him and supported him on the days that weren't so easy.
"It inspired me to go to college," said Mejia's 14-year-old son Anthony. "It took a lot of work. He'd probably come home at 4 p.m. and tell me goodnight at 10 and he still would be doing homework."
"I appreciate his commitment to everything he does," added Mejia's wife Alex. "It's a terrific example he's setting for our kids. They look up to him."
• Laralee Clark said basketball is what brought her to ENMU from Forth Worth, Texas, and basketball is what kept her here.
Although basketball is Clark's first love, she developed a passion for event planning while at ENMU studying public relations.
"I've always liked to throw parties and organize things," Clark said.
She plans to return the Dallas area to start her career but says she will never forget her time at ENMU.