Sunday, June 7, 2015


We went to the commencement ceremony of the New Mexico School for the Arts (NMSA).  This Charter high school was established by Governor Bill Richardson and granted its charter by the State in 2008.  It opened its door to its first class of 9th graders in 2010.  The founders and inspiration behind the entire effort were Catherine Oppenheimer and her husband Garret Thornburg with a number of other very dedicated backers.

Before NMSA, Catherine, a former ballet dancer, established the National Dance Institute of New Mexico (NDI) modeled on the methods developed by New York City Ballet star Jacques d’Amboise who founded NDI in New York City in 1976.  From a base in Santa Fe, NDI New Mexico. goes into public schools across the state and now has over 8,000 4th grade students who learn discipline and cooperation through dance .  Statistics show that these students have done significantly better academically than those without the training.

We have been attending NDI performances for the beginner to advanced students for some time and you can tell which students stand out.  In 2011 we saw this young girl performing with her older brother in the musical “A Chorus Line”:

I must admit it brought me to tears and in fact I wrote about it at the time. 

We have been following this young woman for all these years and last week she graduated from NMSA.  Her full name is Gabriella Monique Ottersberg Enriquez known at school as Gaby Ottersberg.  Gaby graduated with the highest honors from her class.  This is a very talented class. Though their specialties are in Dance, Music, Theater and Visual Arts, 29 out of 44 students graduated with academic honors.  They receive 3 hours plus every day in their arts specialties and the rest of the time is devoted to the usual high school curriculum.  According to the commencement program 100% of the graduating class is going on to college including schools such as Bard, Lewis & Clark, Oberlin College and Conservatory and the University of Pennsylvania.

Who remembers their graduation?  I just remember that I had to go to my High School graduation but I don’t believe I even attended my college or post-graduate commencements.   I do know that Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at my high school graduation in 1962 and all I remember is an old lady who I thought was going to be inspirational and she wasn’t … at least not to an 18 year old.

My older son, Danny, actually remembers that Mario Cuomo, Governor of New York, spoke at his High School and George H. W. Bush at his College graduations.  He did not remember what they said but found George Bush’s commencement address on the web!  It speaks of grand concepts of freedom but there is no practical knowledge being imparted.

When my daughter, Cathy, graduated from college Mike Wallace spoke, you would think we remember that, but we don’t!

Kathy Bates, the actress, spoke at my younger son, Hunter’s College Graduation, and she did say one thing that we remembered and found important.  She said that the young people should take advantage of every opportunity and if you play the guitar and someone asks you to bring it to a party you bring it because you never know who might be there and hear you. That was how she got her first break.

Gaby was kind enough to invite us not only to her graduation but also to her graduation party for family and friends.  I asked her then who would be speaking at her commencement but she could not remember the name and said she did not have a chance to look her up yet.  She must have perked up, however, when that person announced that she was a spy and former covert CIA Operative Officer.  It was Valerie Plame Wilson.

Photo Credit: Clyde Mueller/The New Mexican
Ms. Wilson had practical experience to impart to the students that they hopefully will remember.  She did give some of the usual individual pieces of advice such as-- college was an opportunity to explore and decide where your passion was and not to be scared to make up your mind, change it and make it up again.  She also advised most strongly that if you were not a morning person, not to take early morning classes!  

But most important she spoke of the need for perseverance and resilience.  This is an imperative for anyone in the arts.   Her illustration was most apt and personal.  In the run-up to the Iraq war her cover was blown and her husband’s reputation was shattered in retaliation against her husband, Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson.  He refuted the administration when he reported on his 2002 fact-finding trip to Niger to investigate allegations that Saddam Hussein was attempting to purchase Yellow Cake Uranium.   He then wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times called "What I Didn't Find in Africa".  Valerie Plame said. “we were called liars and traitors and those were the nice things!”

After they were done with the subsequent inquiries and trials they picked up and left Washington moving with their  twins to start all over again in Santa Fe.  Living well is the best revenge and here they have become very active and influential in the community.

To end on a lighter note, there were as usual a number of speakers but one of the best was the young senior Genevieve Conley from the Music Department.  She gave the Salutatorian Remarks.  Her last line was, “But if your passion is in the arts make sure your parents give you a credit card before you leave home”!!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks a ton for sharing this video! I am sure you had great time in this event. Last year I also passed out from the university and threw my graduation party at one of my favorite event space San Francisco. It was such a stunning night!