Marking the first in-person, traditional spring ceremony in three years, CU Denver’s May 14 Commencement featured a speaker who embodies the unconventional, resilient, and determined Lynx spirit. CU Denver Business School alum and renowned mural artist Thomas Evans, aka Detour, addressed this year’s graduating class of more than 2,200 students on the iconic Tivoli Quad, accompanied by near-perfect spring weather and a pristine backdrop of the downtown Denver skyline.
This year’s graduating class of more than 2,200 represented 21 countries, ranged in age from 19 to 78, and included 882 first-generation students and 117 veterans. Graduates overcame a global pandemic and demonstrated success during one of the most challenging times in recent history, Chancellor Michelle Marks said.
“You will become the architects, artists, entrepreneurs, engineers, teachers, therapists, healthcare workers, social workers, mayors, and so much more,” Marks said to graduates. “Our future will be determined by the passion and purpose of each of you. And I know from everything I’ve seen and heard and read about your achievements over the years that that future is very, very bright.”
Degree Marks One of Many Tools for Success
In 2008, when Evans sat in the very same seat as the graduates before him, he didn’t know that his degree would be one of many tools and decisions that would influence his career. He first took a job in advertising for the Wyoming Department of Transportation, where his primary role was to find pictures of random people riding horses, he said. Feeling unfulfilled, he quit and attempted to join the Navy but failed due to an injured knee. Although he felt discouraged, he continued to make art in his kitchen because it brought him joy, he said.
In Denver, Evans came across a nonprofit organization that worked out of Tanzania, and as a side project, he started donating artwork for fundraisers. Evans said his decision to connect with the nonprofit changed his life. “During one of the fundraisers, I asked them if I could tag along with them on their next sponsorship trip to Tanzania,” Evans said. “They got me connected with another nonprofit that ran a school in a rural town called Orkeeswa, and they asked me if I would like to volunteer.” He sold some of his possessions to purchase a plane ticket and two months later was “flying to a place I had never been before to connect with communities I never knew existed.”
“I spent most of my time learning Swahili, teaching entrepreneurship, coaching basketball, and most importantly, using my artwork to connect with people,” Evans said. “After seven months, I returned to Denver and made the decision to be a full-time artist.”
Evans emphasized to graduates that a degree doesn’t have to be limited to one passion or path. “I did a business plan the first day I decided to be a full-time artist,” Evans said. “I saw how my business education could help me pursue art.”
Words of Wisdom for Spring 2022 Graduating Class
Today, Evans specializes in large scale public art, interactive visuals, portraits, immersive spaces, and creative directing, working with high-profile clients including Netflix, authors, and cities. In spring 2022, Evans painted two murals for CU Denver on the Learning Commons and Student Commons and three murals to be displayed within CU Denver buildings. The partnership features seven alumni, from filmmakers to medical professionals, to educators, artists, politicians, and city planners, who started at CU Denver and have impacted the Denver community for the better.
Evans left the spring 2022 graduating class with simple yet powerful words of wisdom:
1. Relationships are everything. Getting ahead in life is not only about what you know and who you know, but it’s also about who knows you.
2. Closed mouths don’t get fed. Be vocal about your wants and needs because no one is going to do it for you.
3. Get started. Whatever you want to do, just get started.
4. Say yes and figure it out. We tend to psych ourselves out of opportunities because we believe we don’t have the qualifications or the skills to do it.
5. No excuses. Take control over things that you can.
“When you’re living your passion, every day is an unbelievable blessing for not only you but the world around you because you’re giving the world the best version of yourself,” Evans said. “Follow your heart, rely on your instincts, rely on your education. Because there’s nothing in this world that can stop you.”