Staff Spotlight ~ Vivian Valencia
University Secretary brings signature warmth to post
By Laurie Mellas Ramirez
|Commencement garb, and history, are stored in Valencia's Scholes Hall office. Photo by Laurie Mellas Ramirez.
Vivian Valencia’s UNM education began at age five. Her mom was a student in 1970 when the university offered kindergarten. “I remember tagging along with her to drama class. They were doing a play about Vietnam and the toll it took on the soldiers,” she recalled.
At 17, Valencia accepted her first campus position working with the ASUNM Popular Entertainment Committee, now Student Special Events.
“Gary Golden supervised the committee. The Pit was the only large venue aside from Tingley Coliseum so students were very involved in organizing community concerts,” Valencia said.
She earned her BBA during UNM’s centennial year (1989) and landed a job share position as accounting tech with student activities and architecture. Later, she became personnel coordinator for athletics and then faculty hiring coordinator for the Office of Equal Opportunity.
In 1995, longtime University Secretary Ann Brown retired and a search to fill her large shoes began. The office assists Faculty Senate and the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee, oversees the Honorary Degree process, commencement, KUNM community elections, dignitary special events, and more.
“The job required such a unique mix of skills. It just felt like it was meant to be,” Valencia said.
In nine years she built her own stellar reputation. Detail oriented, she brings a signature warmth to the post. During her tenure the faculty’s Policy Handbook was revamped and posted online. The office maintains it and six other Web sites. Valencia directs two fulltime staff.
This fall, President Caldera instituted Freshman Family Day under the office’s purview. “It was an honor for me to organize a first time event that people walked away from with such a profound, positive feeling. I received many calls and emails. Freshmen and their families really got the message ‘the university cares about you,’” she said.
The mother of all UNM events – commencement – is held spring and fall. “As soon as one is done it is time to get to work on the next one,” she said. “It is not monotonous but always new and different to me.”
Commencement day or evening, she orchestrates dignitaries who will sit on the stage and student, faculty and family seating. Tradition calls for the University Secretary and Faculty Senate president to lead the colorful platform processional. More than 40 VIPS, deans and faculty participate. About 600 students cross the stage in the fall and for spring, almost 900.
“The only way such a large event can be successful is to pay attention to every detail no matter how minute,” Valencia said. “You need to remain cool and calm to make many of the last minute decisions. The ceremonies seem a lot alike, but something unanticipated can always happen.”
And something did this past spring. As Valencia was about to lead the processional, the stage backdrop collapsed. “President Caldera handled it so well. He went up to the microphone and said something like ‘the class of 2004 will be remembered as the one that brought the house down.’ Everybody roared and cheered. It set a whole new tone for the ceremony,” she recalled.
Fonder memories include the year two women graduates in their seventies proceeded into the arena clasping hands. “It goes to show it’s never too late to receive an education,” Valencia said.
Each ceremony is memorable is its own way, she notes, “You just can’t get away from the special feeling of commencement.”
Life away from UNM centers around her husband and two young boys. “I like viewing the world through my children’s eyes – everything is new again,” she said.
Just like commencement.