This African proverb is often quoted, but even in its repetition and potential overuse, the truth of its message is as firm as bedrock.
One person or entity working alone is never able to accomplish quite as much as one can in partnership with others. And when you seek to create real, lasting change, time and again, the greatest success stories happen when individuals and groups link arms and efforts together toward a common goal, each playing its part in union with others.
Once again, Doña Ana County proved the truth of the proverb. In January, while New Mexico celebrated the highest high school graduation rate in the state’s history, our county’s story was even better.
It was better because we, as a community, rallied around our young people. A conversation began with business leaders in the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce who wanted to do something to help more students graduate. Those leaders reached out to educators and asked, “how can we help?” And then together, they formed The Bridge of Southern New Mexico with a clear stated goal to reach the highest graduation rates in the state. And they set about to make change TOGETHER.
And that’s why the story of graduation rates this year is so sweet. Doña Ana County has risen from what was a graduation rate of 49 percent back in 2007 to now, 80 percent countywide!
Our students’ success far outpaced the state, which posted a statewide rate of 71 percent, acknowledging we still have a way to go to reach the national average graduation rate of 83 percent.
However, reaching this mark is so achievable for us…and that’s important for our young people to know. We need just over 2,500 more New Mexico students to cross the finish line to hit that mark. In our county, we’d hit 83 percent if just 102 more students cross the finish line next year.
Do you see how close we are to leaping out of the bottom? And if that kind of change is possible, what else is possible?
Now that four of every five students have completed high school, we need to make sure as many as possible cross at least one more finish line: to career certifications, associates degrees, and bachelors degrees or higher. Educational success happens at many levels, and we need to come alongside our young people to help them identify which finish line or lines are right for them.
Then, we need to connect them to the higher-paying, higher-skilled career opportunities that are here now and that have been identified as critical components for the economic development of the region: healthcare, defense, digital media, energy, aerospace, value-added agriculture, advanced manufacturing and transportation and logistics.
Then, we will have placed young people in the greatest possible position to succeed. They will be ready to engage in and build the businesses and industries that will create a whole new set of opportunities for our community. And most importantly, the finish lines they cross hold the keys to breaking cycles of poverty once and for all.
If you want to learn more, visit The Bridge’s new website: thebridgeofsnm.org.
Everyone has a role to play. I invite you to get in the race with us to change the future of young people and through them, change the future for us all.