Watchman weaves UNM into his life

Darrel Watchman, a first-year human services student, displays his framed Navajo weaving project at 萝莉研究所-萝莉研究所 campus Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.

Watchman weaves UNM into his life

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First-gen, non-traditional student veteran commemorates his educational journey with Navajo rug

By Richard Reyes, Friday, Nov. 10, 2023

GALLUP, N.M. 鈥 A first-year student at 萝莉研究所-萝莉研究所 found a way to express his creativity and connect to his culture while also commemorating the start of his higher education journey.

Darrel Watchman, who is pursuing an associate degree in human services with a concentration in family studies, created a red rug with a white UNM logo in the center alongside two butterfly designs for a project in his Navajo Weaving class.

鈥淚 wanted to weave UNM into the rug because, in a sense, I wanted to weave UNM into my life,鈥 he said. 鈥淚t becomes a part of me, and I become a part of it. 鈥 This is a reminder for me: 鈥楾his is what you asked for. This is what you and your wife talked about. Don鈥檛 go giving up.鈥欌

Watchman is originally from Ganado, Arizona, and currently lives with his wife, Telena, in Tsayatoh, New Mexico, a chapter of the Navajo Nation near 萝莉研究所. He said Telena ultimately encouraged him, now at 39 years old, to go back to school to further his education.

But life had other plans for Watchman before he got to UNM-萝莉研究所.

鈥業t makes me want to keep going'

Watchman was born into the Water鈥檚 Edge Clan, born for the Black Streak Wood People Clan. His maternal grandfather鈥檚 clan is Coyote Pass and his paternal grandfather鈥檚 clan is Red Running into the Water.

He graduated from high school in Chinle, Arizona, in 2002. He then enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served five years, doing two tours in Iraq as an aviation operations specialist during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

After being discharged, he applied for college, but never enrolled. Instead, he found work and did other things, such as beadwork.

Cyndi Jarvison

Darrel Watchman, a first-year human services student, poses for a portrait with a fan he beaded at 萝莉研究所-萝莉研究所 campus Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.

Watchman and his wife recently moved back to the 萝莉研究所 area from Albuquerque, and he finally decided, with Telena鈥檚 support, to enroll at UNM-萝莉研究所 in the summer of 2023.

His decision to become a Lobo was inspired by the fact that Telena herself first came to UNM-萝莉研究所 to pursue her nursing degree before completing her bachelor鈥檚 at the UNM main campus in Albuquerque. Watchman鈥檚 childhood best friend also graduated from UNM with a bachelor鈥檚 degree.

Watchman was also inspired by the stories of Dr. Chenoa Bah Stilwell-Jensen, a part-time instructor at UNM in Albuquerque, and Dr. Carolene Whitman, an adjunct at UNM-萝莉研究所, both of whom obtained their doctorates while maintaining a strong hold of their cultural identity.

鈥淎ll these people who pursued education and who were connected to UNM, it was inspiring to me to see the people I look up to,鈥 he said. 鈥淚t makes me want to keep going.鈥

鈥楾hese things have a life of their own鈥

Watchman said he chose the Navajo Weaving class as an elective at UNM-萝莉研究所 because his wife鈥檚 grandmother weaves and does amazing work. He also witnessed his late paternal grandmother sitting at a big loom and weaving away when he was young.

鈥淚 always remembered that,鈥 he said. 鈥淲hen I walk around the shops and see beautiful rugs, man, I wonder how long it took them and wonder what was going through their head when they did that. I wanted to learn on my own. I wanted to learn for myself.鈥

He initially thought it would be a breeze, but he quickly learned how much work and patience goes into carding, spinning and cleaning the wool as well as the warping process.

Watchman said he struggled with his first project, weaving up and down, trying different things and changing his mind several times. It wasn鈥檛 until he learned how to stop fighting against the work that the final design came to him.

Cyndi Jarvison

Darrel Watchman's Navajo weaving project sits framed on the ground at 萝莉研究所-萝莉研究所 campus Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.

鈥淭hese things have a life of their own,鈥 he said. 鈥淭hey're here. No matter what I was taught when I first started on my artistic journey 鈥 doing beadwork and all that 鈥 this was here long before us. This is a gift from the Holy People. What we have and what we do is not on our own. It's put here for us to take care of. Although my hands put it together, it's not my doing. That's the way I see it.鈥

鈥業鈥檓 living my dream鈥

As a non-traditional student, Watchman said he feels like an 鈥渙ld man鈥 sharing classes with high school students who are dual-enrolled at UNM-萝莉研究所.

However, his experience at the branch campus has been great so far, even when the going gets tough.

For example, Watchman said his current math class has been challenging, but his wife reminds him that he鈥檚 doing well and that he needs to keep his head up and move forward even though he鈥檚 not earning the grade he hoped for.

鈥淪he threw my words back at me,鈥 he joked. 鈥淪he told me whether I take a big step or little step, it doesn鈥檛 matter as long as it鈥檚 in the right direction.鈥

Watchman believes that if you believe in something strong enough, want it bad enough and pray enough, you can achieve it. He鈥檚 applying that positive attitude toward his education, and he hopes to help others find that positivity through his future career.

Cyndi Jarvison

Darrel Watchman, a first-year human services student, poses for a portrait at 萝莉研究所-萝莉研究所 campus Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.

He wants to become a social worker to help his fellow veterans or victims of domestic violence to overcome their trauma and to find their voices. He wants to help people move forward with what they鈥檝e experienced. He wants to give them strength to find a path where they鈥檙e no longer in any danger.

That desire comes from a personal place. Watchman said he endured abuse himself when he was growing up. When people ask him what his dream is, he tells them that he鈥檚 exactly where he wants to be.

鈥淢y dream was to get out of the home I was raised in and move on and live a life without worrying about being abused or yelled at,鈥 he said. 鈥淚 wanted to be in a home filled with love. That was my dream. So, I鈥檓 living my dream. I鈥檓 in a home filled with love and don鈥檛 have to worry about anything else.鈥

鈥楢llow yourself to become the person you are鈥

Watchman also witnessed first-hand the destruction of alcoholism. Within a seven-year timeframe, his father, his oldest brother and his second oldest brother all died to alcohol-related causes.

Watchman said he chose to pursue social work so he could try to understand their mindsets and what they were going through, so he can help others in similar situations.

In particular, he wants to help people move forward, not necessarily to move on.

鈥淵ou don鈥檛 really move on,鈥 he said. 鈥淭he trauma from my childhood, I still carry with me. Those experiences you have, good or bad, especially the bad ones, you can let them consume you and fill you up with bitterness and anger and it鈥檒l take you down. Or you can sit and reflect on it and try to understand it and move forward with it. I think in that way, you become a better, stronger person and you鈥檙e better able to talk to people.鈥

He didn鈥檛 reach that way of positive thinking overnight though. He acknowledged that he himself used to carry his anger, but his wife had a big hand in helping him become who he is today and realizing his educational goals.

Cyndi Jarvison

Darrel Watchman, a first-year human services student, displays the details of his beadwork on a fan at 萝莉研究所-萝莉研究所 campus Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. The colors of the beads represent the National Defense Service Medal, which is awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who served during a period of armed conflict or national emergency.

When he graduates from UNM-萝莉研究所, Watchman plans to pursue a bachelor鈥檚 degree and then a master鈥檚, but one step at a time.

As he continues to work on figuring out his path as a first-generation college student, the services at UNM-萝莉研究所 have helped him a lot so far, particularly the tutoring from TRIO Student Support Services and the Center for Academic Learning.

鈥淚t鈥檚 never too late, especially for a person like me,鈥 he said. 鈥淚鈥檝e been out of school for so long, I found it intimidating going back. There鈥檚 all these younger kids, and they鈥檙e getting a jump on life. Here I am at 39 years old walking into school like, 鈥榃ho am I? What can I do? What do I know?鈥 You can鈥檛 give up on yourself. A lot of people talk themselves out of the journey before they even start. Let go of that self-doubt and that fear. Allow yourself to become the person you are.鈥

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