Although University of Colorado President Bruce Benson has attended nearly 90 commencement ceremonies at CU’s four campuses, he said he has a special place in his heart for CU Denver.
“I have a great affinity for CU Denver, not only because I have a long history with the campus, but also for the critical role it plays in our community,” Benson said. “Having a great urban research university in the heart of the city is a big reason for Denver being the vibrant place it is.”
Benson, who will retire from the CU presidency in July, is the longest-serving CU president in more than 65 years. He said he sometimes looks out the window of his eighth-floor office at 1800 Grant St. and thinks about the needs of the thousands of people who live and work in the city.
“I think about all the people who need an education, and all the businesses that need an educational partner, and I’m really glad that CU Denver can fill those roles,” Benson said.
His connection with the campus goes back decades, to 1983 precisely, when then-president of the Colorado Community Colleges Jerry Wartgow convinced him to take a leadership role in the Auraria Foundation, which was created to support students and projects at CU Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver and Community College of Denver. Benson did some recruiting of his own years later when he appointed Wartgow to be chancellor at CU Denver.
One of Benson’s first acts after becoming CU president in 2008 was to go to bat for funding for the renovation of the Sciences Building on the Auraria Campus. He succeeded in securing more than $60 million for the project after lobbying then-Gov. Bill Ritter and the state legislature.
Benson was also closely involved from the start with what would become the Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center. He worked with the CU Denver students who championed the project and convinced their fellow students to vote for it. And Benson was deeply involved in discussions with Lola and Rob Salazar, who provided the $10 million naming gift.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the students for the work they did to envision the project and to make it happen,” Benson said. “And I appreciate the generosity and vision of the Salazars, whose lasting impact will benefit generations of CU Denver students.”
Benson has also had an impact on CU Denver students with the brief but notable commencement talk he gives at every CU commencement. Among other words of wisdom, he encourages students to listen to others, to collaborate with people to get things done, to own up to mistakes when necessary, and to be generous with their time and, where possible, with their money.
Perhaps most importantly, he urges students to “Treat everyone with respect. And remember that everyone has a place in this world.
“In the end, your honesty, your word, your reputation and your integrity are all that you have. Don’t lose them.”
Guest contributor: Ken McConnellogue