The same day jurors were sworn in for his criminal trial, former Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham gave the commencement address to graduating seniors at his alma mater, Altamont High School.

Telling students some of what he learned came "from the school of hard knocks," Mecham said, "Much has happened since 1942 when we graduated in the old Altamont High School Gymnasium."Mecham told the Deseret News before the commencement he was forced from office by those who wrongfully wanted him ousted and he advised the students to be wary of their detractors.

"As you take matters into your own hands and become the group to which the mantle is passed . . . don't let someone tell you you aren't just as smart and just as able to serve," he said.

In his 20-minute address, Mecham spoke of the Founding Fathers, religion and character which he called, "that which governs you when no one else is watching."

Mecham, considered a hometown favorite despite his impeachment by the Arizona Senate and criminal proceedings on six felony charges, was invited by students to deliver the keynote address at Friday's graduation ceremony.

Once the junior class president at Altamont High, Mecham told the Deseret News he graduated from there 46 years ago.

"Forty-six years go faster than you think, you'd better watch how you spend it," he advised the 48 graduating students.

The senior class invited Mecham because he was a graduate who had left the rural Uintah Basin town to make something of himself, senior class president Jenel Davies said.

She said his impeachment charges that he perjured himself, concealed a $350,000 campaign loan and filed false documents are irrelevant.

"It doesn't really matter because he still is the same person," she said.

Mecham, too, remained unapologetic, saying his Senate trial and pending criminal trial will not taint his image in the eyes of the students.

"That doesn't put me in any less of a position to tell them what I know and what I can suggest to them. I'm not the least bit apologetic, " he said, repeating he is the victim of "political" persecution.

Students welcomed his appearance at commencement, Davies said, and residents of Altamont, where Mecham was born 63 years ago, also supported his commencement address to their children, Altamont principal Jack Bell said.

At Stevenson's Grocery, proprietor LaRue Stevenson emblazoned her front window with the words "Welcome Home Evan Me

cham" and spoke highly of the man who once lived in a house she and her husband now own.

"I still think he is a good man, and I think he'll pull out of this," she said, referring to his impeachment and criminal charges.

Altamont students invited Mecham to speak last winter. When the former governor's political problems came to a fore, Bell sought and received approval from the Altamont School Board.

Bell, asked what kind of impression an impeached governor could leave with a graduating class, said, "I hope a good one . . . the thing of it is, is that I am sure he has some valuable things to say."

"And his advice may convince them to perhaps not make some mistakes, I mean nobody's perfect," Bell said.

School Board President Keith Nielsen was slightly more guarded in welcoming Mecham.

"Since this (Mecham's impeachment) has happened, it has concerned me a little bit, but not to an extent to where we could have him actually not speak to (the students)."

He said Mecham is a good example of a hometown boy who has done well outside the small community.

Had the school board recommended he not appear, he said, the community would have been disappointed.

Mecham has been impeached, "but on the other hand, he hasn't been proven guilty" in a court of law, Nielsen said, "That's one of the things that's kind of tough on us."