Las Vegas, N.M. – Be the kind of leaders that adhere to the highest standard for integrity, highly decorated Maj. Gen. Melvyn Montaño told graduates at the Highlands University main campus commencement May 12.
A total of 983 students are on track to graduate from Highlands and its centers, with 489 students earning their diplomas at the main Las Vegas campus. Of the total graduates, 555 will earn bachelor’s degrees and 428 will earn master’s degrees.
Montaño, the commencement keynote speaker, said good leaders must subordinate their own ambitions and egos to the goals of their organization.
“As a leader, you must establish high standards of dignity, integrity and courtesy,” Montaño said. “Integrity is the most important quality as it sets the standard for your career. When leading, always remember there is no right way to do the wrong thing. Be open minded and do not lead through fear as it only alienates people. Trust others and most importantly teach,” Montaño said.
Montaño’s distinguished military career spanned more than 45 years, culminating with being named for the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal Award. He retired in 1999 as the adjutant general of the New Mexico National Guard and was the first Hispanic to achieve this Air National Guard rank in the continental United States.
The Albuquerque native’s military service began in 1954 when he enlisted in the New Mexico Air National Guard at Kirtland Air Force base in Albuquerque. He served as an enlisted airman for 16 years before completing his college education and rising through the ranks from first lieutenant to major general. He received received numerous other decorations such as the Air Force Commendation Medal and the Legion of Merit Medal.
“You graduates are now the leaders of our country and will be influencing our future. You have the unique privilege of having a huge impact on who we are as a country,” Montaño said.
Montano said good leaders need to be able to face themselves in the mirror and be comfortable with what they see. He quoted from a poem by Peter Dale Wimbrow Sr., The Man in the Glass, saying the word man in the title is inclusive of women: “The fellow whose verdicts counts most in your life is the one staring back from the glass.”
Montaño is a Highlands alumnus who earned his master’s in business management from the university in 1975. He earned a second master’s from the University of New Mexico in public administration and attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government.
“We are fortunate in New Mexico as education was introduced by the friars that came with the first colonizers of America with the Don Juan de Onate expedition in 1598. Back in that time only the clergy were educated,” Montaño said.
Montaño said education was highly valued in his family. His mother was a second-grade teacher and his father was a warehouseman at Kirtland Air Force Base.
The Vietnam veteran said he did not earn his own college education until he returned from Vietnam, where he was deployed from 1968-1969. He earned decorations for his service such as the Vietnam Service Medal with Four Bronze Stars, the Presidential Unit Citation, and the Outstanding Unit Award with a “V” for Valor.
“My wife, Marian, raised our four daughters while I attended college at night. It took me eight years to get a B.S. and two master’s degrees. I would not be wearing these Two Stars if I had not achieved my education,” Montaño said.
Montaño also has a long history of civic leadership, such as serving as former president for the New Mexico Hispanic Culture Preservation League, former board member for the National Hispanic Cultural Center, former chairman of the board for El Rancho de las Golodrinas, and former chairman of the Catholic Foundation in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
In closing, Montaño quoted the words of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, “Leadership and learning are indispensable.”