I first met Natriece Bryant, CU Denver’s Fall 2022 Commencement Speaker, at another graduation, last year, when we bonded over breakfast burritos and the excitement of spending a morning helping students and their families on one of the most significant days of their lives. I’d soon learn that for Bryant, Public Private Partnership Director for the State of Colorado and President of the CU Denver Alumni Board (she’s earned three degrees from CU Denver: ’02, MA ’07, MCJ ’09), giving back to the university is at the core of who she is.
And on Dec. 17, Bryant will stand in front of the crowd at the Convention Center to speak to graduates who, like her, have earned a degree that will have a significant impact on their lives. She’ll talk about her experience, and the future. When I sat down with Bryant this week to learn more, she was—no surprise—helping out again. As she stuffed diplomas into covers, we talked about her journey, volunteering, and her favorite campus memory.
CU Denver is celebrating its 50th birthday this academic year, and you’re also celebrating 20 years since you received your first CU Denver degree. What is it like for you to be able to speak during this momentous year for you and the university?
“Twenty years. It hits differently when you actually say it. And to be able to share an anniversary with the university and myself is pretty cool, right? Yes, it’s powerful. It just shows how much CU [Denver] has an impact on the people it produces through education….These students, they’ve probably gone through more emotionally than anyone else. They started school outside of a pandemic and ended it at the tail end of a pandemic. They went from being in class, in person, to not knowing when they were going to come back. To be in that space and be chosen as a person to speak to them about all the things that they’ve overcome—it’s pretty bold.”
As we speak, you’re stuffing diplomas and giving back. Why is that important to you?
“[CU Denver] was the path in which I figured out who I wanted to be when I grew up….Being able to see successful women, specifically, come out of this school—to have leadership that speaks to diversity, leadership that speaks to inclusivity—is why I come back.
I see this organization as really being the foundation for creating success. I think as long as that message continues forward, and as long as I see all of the volunteer opportunities, and [am] able to engage with students and talk about career planning—that’s my jam, I love that type of thing.”
What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to a graduate?
“Embrace your change. Enjoy your journey. Every piece that I’ve learned, and every degree that I’ve received and earned, has given me my step to the next space that I’m going. So, although it feels bumpy and it’s uncomfortable, embrace it.”
You’ve been on quite the educational journey. Can you tell me more about that and why you kept returning for more degrees?
“When I first graduated with my bachelor’s degree [in communications], I worked for a radio station, and I was really excited about people hearing my voice and being on air. Then I realized I wanted more from a policy perspective, and human behavior fascinated me but I didn’t want to be a psychologist. I wanted to understand the dynamics of group behavior and why people do the things that they do. Sociology was the natural path for me for that.
After I graduated with that degree, my master’s thesis turned into my first published book. It really looked at the stereotypes of African Americans in sitcom media. I looked at everything from the 1970s to 2007 and looked at how we portray stigma through comedy for the African American community. Through that work, I decided that I wanted to potentially look at the legal aspects behind policy work. I went back to school and got my criminal justice master’s degree. During that time, I started working with [Dr. Mary Dodge, Master of Criminal Justice program director,] and started looking at how we create a more inclusive environment for our students.
My degrees say that I didn’t have a true understanding of what I wanted, but I’m glad I was able to learn from that experience.”
What was it like doing that while starting a family?
“I have two girls. When I graduated with my first master’s degree, my first daughter was six weeks old. It was super impactful to have her present and be like, ‘We did this together,’ because I was pregnant the last nine months of school. Even though she was probably chewing on a blanket [during the commencement ceremony]….The little one that I’m talking about is 16 now and my youngest is 12, and they will both be present at Saturday’s commencement…You want to be a powerhouse for your kids and show them that good, powerful women can still be moms and be successful at the same time.”
What is your favorite CU Denver memory?
“My most exciting experience is the engagement that we used to have down in the Tivoli during lunch break. It created a sense of community. There was so much opportunity for us to engage with people from MSU Denver, from Community College of Denver, from the community. Having that opportunity to talk with so many people and learn about what they’re doing was life changing. That community piece is so important when you’re trying to figure out who you want to be in this world. And being able to talk to people about life lessons and learn from those had a huge impact.”