EDWARDS, Colorado - Inspiration is where you find it, and you can find it everywhere, said graduating Colorado Mountain College students.
CMC hosted its first commencement in the newly expanded Edwards campus. The theme was "inspiration," and it wasn't hard to find.
Ralph Green, the commencement speaker, is the first African American male to make the U.S. Disabled Ski Team. He lives and trains in Vail, and travels the world.
"You guys are my heroes," he said, standing on his right leg (his left leg is missing) pointing at the graduates, his crutches hanging from his wrists. "You're being an inspiration."
Other CMC students came before this year's graduating class, and others will follow, Green said.
"Look at your younger brothers or younger sisters and show them the way. If you want them to read, be an example. You have to read to them."
When he was younger, Green didn't have to look for examples of how to do it right ... and wrong. One grandmother had 16 kids, the other 14 kids.
"We have drug users, we have lawyers, we have politicians, we have police officers," Green said.
Green is strong and athletic. He was one of New York City's finest young athletes, but all that flew away when he was shot in the back in Bedford Stuyvesant.
"I lost my leg and I thought my life was over. Then I saw someone competing in adaptive sports. I said 'I want to do this. I'm going to do it,'" Green said. "That's what separates us. Not just doing it but wanting to be the best at it."
"I'm challenging every person in here to be a better person than they were the day before. Be a better person than you were yesterday. That's how we grow, that's the movement.
"Walk with your head up. Be proud of this accomplishment."
Green is training to compete in the shot put in this summer's London Paralympics.
He offered three slogans, each admonishing the graduates to put fear in its proper place - behind them
"Don't be afraid to think outside the box. Don't be afraid to be different, but most of all don't be afraid to be a leader," Green said.
Degrees by the dozen
CMC conferred almost 200 degrees and certifications, ranging from early childhood education to auto service of all sorts, to the culinary arts to emergency preparedness and fire science.
Those emergency preparedness degrees came in handy when one speaker fainted on stage. Two Eagle River Fire Protection District fire fighters, Michael Bertrand and Zach Williams, who are also Colorado Mountain College students, rushed to the stage to take care of her and quietly take charge of the situation.
Another graduate, Hayley Beard, will graduate again in a few weeks. Beard was awarded her Associates of Science Degree Friday afternoon. She'll receive her Eagle Valley High School diploma on June 2.
CMC started its dual enrollment program in 2002, teaching college classes to local high school students, said Larry Dutmer, CMC student affairs counselor.
This year, more than 400 local high school students earned college credit, Dutmer said.
Peggy Curry, CEO of CMC's Edwards campus, opened and closed the ceremony, greeting students, faculty, family and friends.
"This is my favorite day of the year," Curry said. "It's work, but it's a work of joy."
She spoke briefly about inspiration, looked out at the crowd and smiled as the early evening sun cascaded into the room.
"Days like this, that's my inspiration," she told the crowd.
"It's your journey. Be awake to opportunities, to love your life and not only your life, but all life," Curry said.
And with that, she directed the graduates to turn their tassels from right to left, and they strode into the rest of their lives.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.