Come Home. NM Misses You.


Haley Pedersen '25

Many young New Mexicans plan to leave the state fresh out of high school. Come home.

Dear AA Students,
As many of us get ready to leave New Mexico on our college endeavors, I’m dreaming of the day I get to come back. Sadly, New Mexico has a massive exodus problem. Thousands of potential community leaders leave our aching state. I’m personally committed to inspiring joy in New Mexico. Not only would it feel wrong to leave, but I also wouldn’t be happy if I did. As a fellow young adult, I understand that New Mexico may seem boring on Friday nights. But before criticizing it, consider New Mexico as a community rather than a place: a community stratified by different cultures and backgrounds but still interconnected and pervaded with people committed to one another. I’m writing you this letter with a plea: come home after college.
Our home state has offered me the sacrifice and support which has allowed me to thrive. But my lenses may be rose-tinted, because that’s not everyone’s New Mexico. If you come back, you can help change that. You can work with countless other New Mexicans dedicated to inspiring change in their community. From working at Roadrunner Food Bank, I’ve been touched by the sheer number of people spending their Saturday mornings doing what they can to help their fellow Burqueños. Along with an obvious lack of resources, New Mexico needs more joy, more optimism, and more people working to make it a better place.
Take Carissa McGee, for example. She was convicted of a felony at age 16, but since leaving prison, she has worked diligently at Project ECHO, a model of medical education and care management to provide quality treatment to diverse and underserved communities, to ameliorate barriers to healthcare for inmates. What’s equally amazing is that our community gave her a second chance and it paid off. Carissa McGee is one of my biggest role models and has highlighted the community advocacy I want to represent as an adult.
I want to stay in New Mexico for countless reasons, from the familiarity of home to my own family roots. My primary motivation, however, is that I love the people in New Mexico and time and time again, they prove that they love me. While that sense of connection is possible anywhere, why would I leave what I already love? Aside from the fact that I want to help the community that has molded me, I want to live in a place where I feel connected and can rely on total strangers. It might seem like hyperbole, but it’s really not. Again, I mean not to hold New Mexico on a pedestal but rather to highlight how its people have had an impact on my happiness and opportunity. So, I beg, ask yourself the same question: what has New Mexico done for you? If you need to feel like a moral martyr to stay and help, don’t. But, if you can recognize how our community has impacted you and how you can impact it, please try to imagine a life where you can be happy and ambitious making a difference in your home state.
Where we all have room to improve is our cognizance of upbringings distinct from our own. As a Northeast Heights resident myself, I’ll be the first to say that I, and many of us at Academy, can be elitists. While, of course, not everyone at Academy lives in a socioeconomically secluded bubble or participates in elitism, it’s a big enough problem to be worthy of confrontation. I too have succumbed to the myth that parts of Albuquerque and other less privileged parts of New Mexico are pervaded by crime and destitution. Before you fall for that, spend some time in the parts of New Mexico you’re unfamiliar with. I’ve met many astonishing people in Clovis, Farmington, Socorro, and more. As an 8th grader playing basketball, traveling to Grants for a game, I represented the very problem I’ve highlighted, deriding rural communities without basis. That was gross. But today, my trips to Grants to visit my grandparents have been something to look forward to. Despite the rurality of Grants, the people there have been too kind to me for me to not enjoy every trip I take there.
As a leader at EFFECTS, I’ve conducted science experiments at Title 1 elementary schools across the city. In April 2022, as we were constructing homopolar magnets, I struck up a conversation with a little girl at Hawthorne Elementary, a school embedded in the International District. It is colloquially known by wealthier Burqueños as the “warzone,” but its ambience doesn’t match that title. When I mentioned that I was really nervous for the AP Spanish exam coming up in May, the girl, a bilingual student, started speaking to me in Spanish to help me study. She corrected me when my grammar was off and taught me new vocabulary. The girl, as an 11-year-old, was committed to my learning and wanted to ameliorate my stress. As I write this, my eyes are a little teary because that’s one of the most tender moments I’ve ever had. And it was with a complete stranger. The New Mexico I’ve experienced is pervaded by this genuine compassion. Maybe it’s a grand gesture such as the one I’ve described or maybe it’s as simple as the Frontier worker who gave me a free sweet roll after noticing I’ve had a tough day. Nevertheless, I’m dedicated to New Mexico because it has been dedicated to me.
We lack labor in nearly every sector of society. New Mexico ranks last in K-12 education, 49th in opportunity, 33rd in healthcare, and below average on nearly every metric. I imagine a New Mexico where everyone considers what they owe to their community. I envision a New Mexico where everyone is working in a community dedicated to bringing joy to one another. Right now, healthcare workers, fire-fighters, teachers, policy makers, and more often put your happiness above their own. But that fact isn’t unique to New Mexico. There are so many delightful places that are also hurting. The best people to help them are people of that specific community. From their experience, they best understand how to make a difference and how to engage with their community. Einstein said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” There’s no one I’d rather have helping New Mexico than a New Mexican.
Community is defined as “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” You, an Albuquerque High student, a Farmington congresswoman, and so many more all share some heritage and culture. Simultaneously, you’re all diverse. Personally, I define community as a group of people working for each other. One day, I’ll need your help and maybe the next, you’ll need mine. A firm sense of community becomes warped when there’s a crowd of people with one foot out the door. Eventually, they leave altogether. This year, I’m applying to the UNM BA/MD program among many other schools: a program that pushes ambitious high schoolers to work for underserved communities in New Mexico, of which there are many, as physicians. Yet, only half of their graduates have followed through on their promises. While it’s a specific example, the BA/MD discrepancy doesn’t exist in a vacuum. At Academy and beyond, high schoolers have given up on New Mexico at such a young age without fully experiencing it.
I honestly believe that going out of New Mexico to experience other communities is valuable. However, it’s saddening when an overwhelming amount of Academy students who leave for their education never return. It is natural to want to go elsewhere and see more of the world. The beauty of doing what you love, whether it be medicine or teaching English, is that your passion can spread into the lives of others. Through hard work and dedication to what you love, I think everyone can make a difference in any community. There’s work to be done in New Mexico, opportunity to be shared, empowerment to be delivered, and joy to be spread. If you stay, I won’t say that your impact will ascend that of the bilingual girl, Carissa, or many other amazing New Mexicans dedicated to the community. I promise, however, that you will make New Mexico a better place, spreading joy, possibility, and hope because you’re so talented.
I wanted to speak to New Mexicans of a variety of backgrounds to understand how they feel attached to their community. My immigrant grandmother said (translated from Hindi), “When we first came to the United States, it was hard to come where you don’t speak the language or eat the food. When we moved to New Mexico, people seemed a lot more happy and they helped you more to get around in a new and scary place.” Ms. Garvanian, an Academy teacher who went to high school in NM and returned after four years away, told me, “There is an easy pace to each day here, and we have a wonderful community of kind people around us.” A nurse I met working at Roadrunner Foodbank, who preferred to stay anonymous, told me simply, “There’s no better place than where I grew up.”
For me, hearing one story after another about people dedicated to my community is heartwarming. To segue, though, hearing of the ubiquitous injustice existing in the very same community breaks my heart. Like the bilingual girl, I don’t want people in New Mexico to feel alone or unsupported. While the goal seems loud, it’s something that we all can work towards together. I want to stay and continue to enjoy the fruits of the community while giving as much as I can back. No matter what I do or where I end up, I promise to myself and my future happiness that I’ll come home as soon as I can.
I’m asking all high schoolers to contemplate what they owe to their community. I don’t want to restrict your carte blanche; I’m simply asking you to give a thought to coming home after finishing school. If your destiny is still elsewhere, good luck to you. In fact, I admire your decision because you’ll inspire positive change in other communites that I’m sure would love your help. We’ll figure it out here because our community cares deeply for one another. But it’d be easier and people would be happier if you stayed. New Mexico is a lovely, yet agonized community. Come home after college and work with me and fellow New Mexicans to spread joy.

Love you all,
Neil Mahto