After all the classes. Papers. Tests. Late nights. Lectures. Group projects. And internships. There is one time in a student’s academic career where the solo endeavor they’ve embarked upon becomes a communal opportunity to celebrate excellence, perseverance, accomplishment, and success: commencement.
On Saturday, Dec. 17, roughly 900 students and 8,000 of their friends and family celebrated Fall Commencement at the Colorado Convention Center. They come from across Colorado, 30 states, and eleven nations around the world. More than 40 percent are first-generation students.
This commencement coincides with an important moment in CU Denver’s history, as the university will celebrate its 50th Anniversary on Jan. 11, 2023. As the last graduating class before that milestone, they are poised to serve as a bridge to CU Denver’s bright future as the state’s premier public urban research university.
The day was filled with little and big moments that showcased the spirit of these graduates as they embark on the next stage in their lives.
Monique Snowden, Senior Vice Chancellor for Strategic Enrollment and Student Success, PhD, greeted the graduates: “Time is marked with many transitions, be it from one season to the next, or one phase of life to the next. Cultures, the world over, mark these transitions with ceremonies steeped in tradition while at the same time looking forward. Commencement, with its ancient regalia and pageantry, marks the conclusion of a period of study and the beginning of a new phase of life for the graduates. Today, we honor their past achievements and celebrate their bright futures.”
Chancellor Michelle Marks, PhD, spoke to the group’s resiliency and strength. “I know you’re prepared to spark positive change and overcome difficult challenges. I know that because you’ve already overcome many challenges just to get to today. A global pandemic. A rapidly changing economy. Social and cultural unrest,” Marks said, adding that the graduates were embarking on a new stage with CU Denver’s support. “Regardless where your life takes you, we are committed to standing alongside you.”
University of Colorado President Todd Saliman offered the graduates some words of wisdom: “Earning your degree is huge step in your life journey—I know it was for me—so I thought I’d share with you a few things I’ve picked up along the way. Ready? Here’s the first thing: The world is both wonderful and weird. And you’re not just ready for it, you’re ready to shake it up.”
This year’s commencement speaker, Natriece Bryant, has deep connections to CU Denver as an alum and president of the Alumni Board. She is also the Public Private Partnership Director for the Colorado’s Department of Personnel and Administration.
Bryant recalled a graduation when her daughter—now 16 years old and in the audience—was just six weeks old. “As a student, I remember feeling a profound sense of accomplishment sitting in the same space you are in now,” Bryant said. “At times feeling grateful, other times confused, but always feeling proud. Think of what you have accomplished, think of what you will accomplish moving forward. It is exciting, isn’t it?”
She commended the graduates for their journeys: “You adapted, you changed, and you thrived. That is a sense of peace that no one can take away from you. You were born with something inside of you that refuses to settle for average.”
After Bryant’s speech, hundreds of students crossed the platform to receive congratulations from Marks and Saliman, who were also on stage with members of the University of Colorado Board of Regents, Grand Marshall Maryam Darbeheshti, PhD, cabinet members, deans, and faculty.
The ceremony also featured outgoing CU Regent Jack Kroll, who earned two degrees at CU Denver and is a past president of the Alumni Association. “In his leadership and professional roles at the University of Colorado, he has been a champion for access and affordability in higher education,” Marks said.
Then, Snowden asked students to follow a longstanding tradition: shifting the tassels on their caps from the right to the left side.
Graduates and their guests then exited the hall, filling the convention center’s open areas, and spilling out into Denver. They waved signs and flower bouquets. They hugged. They cried. And they started on the next part of their journey.