Colorado Rep. Iman Jodeh, D-Aurora, a CU Denver alum and the Fall 2021 Commencement keynote speaker, asked roughly 1,400 graduates seated before her at the Dec. 18 ceremony to cheer if the following statements are true.
Cheer if you were parenting while in school.
Cheer if you are a first-generation American, immigrant, or refugee.
Cheer if you worked while you were in school.
Cheer if you were the first to graduate in your family.
Cheer if you speak another language.
Cheer if you had to navigate a global pandemic to graduate.
Cheer for the loved ones who supported you along the way.
The hall in the Colorado Convention Center erupted with claps, hoots, and hollers—a collective celebration of the sacrifices made and accomplishments achieved to earn a CU Denver degree.
The ceremony marked CU Denver’s first in-person commencement in nearly two years due to COVID-19 restrictions. Graduates, sporting black and gold caps and gowns, were each provided two ticketed guests. All attendees were required to wear masks. The milestone event was Chancellor Michelle Marks’ first in-person ceremony since she joined the university in July 2020. In her remarks, she congratulated graduates, who represent many states across the U.S. and 14 nations across the globe.
“You will forever have the unique distinction of having graduated in the midst of one of the most challenging times in recent history. Not just a global pandemic but a national reckoning with systemic racism, an economic slump, and a politically charged climate,” Marks said. “Not only have you survived these challenges, you’ve thrived. As you look back on having lived through this tumultuous moment in history, I hope you remember the qualities that pulled you through: your adaptability, creativity, perseverance, and sheer determination.”
Keynote Speaker Shares Personal Story of Perseverance, Determination
Jodeh, who is Colorado’s first-ever Muslim lawmaker, earned her master’s in public policy from CU Denver in 2006 and bachelor’s in history and political science two years earlier. The first-generation American and daughter of Palestinian immigrants spoke about a defining event that shaped who she is today. Jodeh was a sophomore at CU Denver during the 9/11 attacks.
“I found myself catapulted into a world that demanded I define and defend my religion that 2 billion people called a way of life. It was a time when America was negotiating what it meant to be an American,” Jodeh shared with graduates. “I watched as people debated whether I, a first-generation American, Muslim, woman of color, belonged in that conversation. That conversation led me to public service, to be the first Arab woman ever elected to the Colorado Legislature, to be unapologetic about who I am.”
Jodeh encouraged graduates to take responsibility for participating in and contributing to a better world. Every single graduate is owed the American Dream, she said.
“A bigger, broader American Dream that centers those who live in the margins,” she added. “An American Dream that promises a better life, that is moved, more vivid and colorful, regardless of your ZIP code, residency status, race, and religion.
“It is a dream that is only limited by your imagination.”