Two Community Members Receive Honorary Doctorates

Dr. Joseph Shepard, who is President of Western New Mexico University, and the current members of the board of regents have elected to honor two community members with Doctorates of Law degrees this spring.

© Western New Mexico University

Along with the 350 graduates making up the Western New Mexico University class of 2021, two community members received honorary doctorates during the hybrid commencement ceremony on Friday, May 7, at 2 p.m.

Receiving Honorary Doctorates of Laws were former WNMU Regent Chair Jerry A. Walz and former District 35 Senator John Arthur Smith.

Walz is a Silver City native and WNMU graduate who excelled as a newspaper editor in his early career and as an attorney since 1980. For a dozen years, he was an instrumental member of the WNMU Board of Regents, having served as Board Chair multiple times and playing a key role in the hiring of current university president Dr. Joseph Shepard.

“I am humbled by this honor and, with pride, look forward to joining only a select few who have been embraced with this recognition. My sincerest thanks to Western New Mexico University, President Shepard, the Board of Regents, faculty and staff, all students — past, present and future — and finally the wonderful and diverse people who make up our community,” Walz said.

Over his three decades in the New Mexico Senate, Smith came to be the state legislature’s leading expert on finance and earned a reputation for being fiscally responsible and collaborating on bipartisan legislation. He represented Dona Ana, Hidalgo, Luna and Sierra counties but in practice served the people of southwest New Mexico as a whole over his eight terms, which he finished in 2020 as the longtime chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

“My public school classroom educators were graduates of Western New Mexico University, who had a great influence on my life. After my election, I often spoke about the lack of support from local governments for the university. I continue to encourage people in our area to enroll at WNMU, which offers educational advancement at an affordable price,” he said. “Thank you for this honorary doctorate. I will continue to encourage students to attend WNMU and take this opportunity and run with it!”

Graduates being honored during the hybrid commencement ceremony this spring have the option of participating virtually or in-person, and both honorary doctorate recipients have elected to participate in person at Ben Altamirano Stadium, where capacity will be limited.

WNMU closely followed the New Mexico Higher Education Department guidelines for commencement ceremonies at institutions, implement strict expectations for in-person attendees, and enforcing current public health orders and university protocols.

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