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Chávez Speaks at Rio Rancho Commencement


Thomas Chávez addresses Highlands – Rio Rancho graduates

Photo: Rick Loffredo/Highlands University

Thomas Chávez addresses Highlands – Rio Rancho graduates during the May 10 ceremony.

Las Vegas, N.M. – Keep your idealism and become crusaders for your profession, a distinguished historian and former director of the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe told graduates at the New Mexico Highlands University Rio Rancho Center commencement.

Thomas Chávez spoke May 10 to 272 graduates – 162 earning graduate degrees and 110 earning undergraduate degrees – at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.

Chávez directed the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe for 21 years, where he oversaw numerous innovations and laid the groundwork for the New Mexico History Museum, which opened in 2009. He directed the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque until his retirement in 2004.

Chávez earned his Ph.D. in history from the University of New Mexico and received a Fulbright Research Fellowship to Spain. He is a prolific writer and has authored numerous books with a focus on Spanish Colonial history and New Mexico history.

Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes’ 16th century masterpiece and one of the most enduring novels of all time, was a prominent theme in Chávez’ speech.

“Keep your idealism, parlay your education into lofty, beneficial goals,” Chávez said. “Sally forth like Don Quixote with your lances tempered at Highlands in the confidence that each of you has within you the potential to benefit mankind.

“Every profession has crusaders and you can be the new Don Quixote warriors. Crusaders are immortal but the cause is infinite, and the way to immortality. Crusaders are not cartoon characters but the real superheroes,” Chávez said.

Chávez also drew upon the words of prominent New Mexican lawyer Frank Springer, the 1897 president of the Board of Regents at New Mexico Highlands University, then the Normal School. Known as a Renaissance man, Springer’s interests ranged from the arts to paleontology.

“Springer said, ‘Keep the lights of human intelligence and creativity burning brightly.’ This is your challenge. It’s when the dreamers and the doers work hand in hand that much is accomplished. Better yet, be both a dreamer and a doer,” Chávez said.

During the course of his career as an historian, scholar and cultural administrator, Chávez authored books with titles such as,A Moment in Time: The Odyssey of New Mexico’s Segesser Hide Paintings in 2012, Origins of New Mexico Families: a Genealogy of the Spanish Colonial Period in 2011, Spain and the Independence of the United States: an Intrinsic Gift in 2002, An Illustrated History of New Mexico in 2002,Quest for Quivera: Spanish Exploration on the Plains 1540 – 1821 in 1992, and many more.   

Chávez has two books in press and is working on two historical novels.

Over the years, Chávez garnered numerous awards and recognition, including the 1997 Excellence in the Humanities Award from the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities, the 1998 Mayor’s Recognition Award for Excellence in the Arts in Santa Fe, the Distinguished History Award Medal from the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the University of New Mexico Zia Award, among others.


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