CMC graduates kick off virtual commencement season

COVID-19 couldn't dampen Colorado Mountain College’s enthusiasm

Patricia Herrera is the student speaker for the Edwards campus in Colorado Mountain College's virtual 2020 commencement.
Special to the Daily
To Watch CMC Commencement

Colorado Mountain College President Carrie Besnette Hauser told her school’s 1,200 graduates on Friday that commencement is still one of her favorite days of the year.

Different this year, but still great.

At noon Friday, CMC kicked off this year’s COVID-19 commencement season with the first virtual graduation ceremony, 265 graduates for the Vail Valley campus and 1,200 collegewide, Hauser said.

“At CMC we’re nothing if not creative. Nothing replaces walking across the stage, shaking hands while your family members cheer,” Hauser said, adding that this is close.

Each CMC campus had its own commencement, just like it normally would, with its own keynote and student speakers, caps, gowns and tassels to turn to culminate the ceremony.

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“We know you will do incredible things and leave the ladder down for those who come after you, Hauser said.

Keynote speakers were outstanding and accomplished women in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.

“When we think of those women and the passion they had, I hope you’re doing that as well,” Angie Paccione, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, told the CMC graduates.

Her history, her story

Patricia Herrera has that passion. The student speaker for CMC’s Vail Valley campus earned her bachelor’s degree in leadership and management. She also learned that hers is the hand on the helm of her destiny.

Her journey to commencement was rocky, beginning with a broken home and physical abuse that led to a suicide attempt. She said she now sees that attempt as “an awakening,” that she is in control of her life and how much power she has in it. She has chosen the road that leads to happiness. Her CMC mentors have helped her down that road, she said.

“At one point in my life I would never have told my story out loud,” she said. She said she hopes her story will help others overcome adversity.

You can get there from here

“There are many people who wonder, ‘Can I do this? Can I get there?’ Well, here you are,” Marc Brennan, who heads CMC’s Vail Valley campus in Edwards said. “These students have had more obstacles in front of them than any set of students in CMC history.”

Brennan called this year’s class “persistent and resolute.”

“It’s time to turn this into your next success story,” Brennan said.

Lauren Y. Casteel, chief executive officer of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, is her own success story. The Vail Valley campus keynote speaker exclaimed, “265 Eagles are soaring across the virtual stage of a real milestone.”

Casteel grew up in the segregated South during the civil rights movement. During her late teens her father and grandfather died in the same week. Her first love since middle school died when they were 18.

“I silenced my pain, sank into my wounded soul and flunked out of college at 20,” Casteel said.

She ran away to Colorado, where a new family of friends and mentors embraced her. She has climbed 14ers, reminding herself to breathe, and run rivers, reminding herself to keep going feet first. She worked full time and put herself through college. It took seven years. She landed a job in community television, worked hard and thought she had learned everything she needed to know.

“I was wrong,” she said.

Her mother lived through the Depression and kept the family’s pantry stocked with staples like soup, beans and toilet paper. Casteel occasionally scoffed.

“That was then, this is now,” Casteel said she told her mother.

The similarities and uncertainty between then and now are striking, Casteel said. Technology can be useful, but is often a cacophony, she said, urging us to tune out the cacophony and seek truth, love and support.

The graduates’ achievements will serve them in ways they cannot imagine, she said. Their degree is a “welcome to the world of life-long learning,” she said.

The virtual commencement could be “muted,” Casteel said.

“Nothing can mute your success,” she said. “The world into which you are graduating is uncertain, but not impossible. Take what you have experienced and learned, remember to breathe — inside your coronavirus mask — and keep your feet forward. Whatever your background, your lived experience coupled with your CMC education makes you invaluable and undeniable. You, finally being seen as a backbone to this country, give me hope.”

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