In the afterglow of a successful President’s Gala at Highlands University, I can’t help but wonder what will come of it.
The most obvious results are that more than $100,000 was raised to help Highlands students pay for their educations, and support for President Jim Fries was celebrated, and solidified, as never before.
But I think the gala’s success was more than that.
For Highlands and Las Vegas alike, I think the gala was a psychological boost, in a manner that’s unprecedented at least in recent years.
By staging such an elaborate event, our collective self-esteem was lifted. For once, we weren’t the victims of someone’s shortcomings.
Too often it seems that political infighting, humiliating scandals, multiple homicides and a never-ending problems with drugs and crime shape our identity — but that wasn’t the case a week ago last Saturday. Instead, for that single evening, we were elegant, classy, fun-loving and proud. We were, in an instant, who we want to be — a vibrant community, filled with accomplishments and hopes.
Of course, to call it a single event doesn’t reflect the reality of what went into it. As far back as last August preparations got under way. The gala committee was made up of Highlands employees, alumni and enthusiasts who came together for a common purpose — the high-minded objective of raising “dollars for scholars” and celebrating five years of forward momentum at the university. Long-time disputes were set aside for the greater good, and the result was uplifting indeed.
We proved that we can rise above our differences to create something bigger and better. We proved that unity can indeed trump division, even in Las Vegas, if the cause is right.
So what made this so different from so many other noble efforts in the past? I think it’s because there was a measurable outcome. We didn’t get together to talk about a problem or an issue; we actually created a result: a gala, which was, perhaps, exactly the kind of celebration we needed, and an actual monetary investment into our future through our young people, our university and our community.
Those are real results. We need more outcomes like that.
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Pete Campos, the Luna Community College president and state senator, asked me to meet with him, which we did last week, after the gala. I wasn’t sure what he had in mind, and was surprised at what he wanted to talk about.
First, after ribbing me a little about my roasting comments, he told me on no uncertain terms how impressed he was with the gala. In fact, I think I can safely say he was genuinely excited about it all.
Admittedly, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, somewhat expecting him to suggest we do something similar for Luna, but that’s not what he wanted to say at all. Instead, he proposed using the forward momentum that gala had produced — that is, the cooperative approach that had worked so well — at a regional level.
And he suggested that I, as editor and publisher of the Optic, could be the voice that gets the discussion going.
His idea is to pull together a northeastern New Mexico coalition intent on taking on common issues at a united front. At first he mentioned water, education and economic development, and as we discussed the idea, the list grew to include health-care services, transportation, veterans issues, government services and more.
During our discussion, I thought out loud about how state and federal officials would probably smile on a unified regional approach to projects in need of funding. Campos added that it would also make them think twice about turning such a coalition away. After all, elections can be lost when an entire region become dissatisfied with your work. That seems to be another good reason for a regional approach to common problems.
Now, before you shake your head and wonder about my naivete, allow me to say I realize the political implications surrounding this discussion. Sen. Campos is running for re-election this year, his district includes much of northeastern New Mexico, and he has a formidable opponent in the Democratic primary this year, Rep. Thomas Garcia. So Campos has a political interest in bringing me on board with his idea.
Still, the idea has merit — if it can be pulled off. Yes, I’m interested in advancing the discussion. But I’ll need to leave it to the politicians, and some able community leaders, to produce some actual results.
Tom McDonald is editor and publisher of the Las Vegas Optic. He may be reached at 505-425-6796, ext. 237, or firstname.lastname@example.org.