CMC graduates turn tassels at Vilar Center | VailDaily.com

CMC graduates turn tassels at Vilar Center

Vail valley resident Carol Lewis-Zilli, a four-time U.S. champion and the first woman to long jump 23 feet., gave the commencement speech for Colorado Community College Edwards campus graduation at the Vilar Perfoming Arts Center in Beaver Creek last week..
Townsend Bessent | Townsend@vaildaily.com |

Carol Lewis-Zilli’s pearls of wisdom

• Along with lots of other wonderful stuff, she said this:

• Always believe in yourself.

• Set short and long term goals

• Look at yourself from all directions

• Don’t let the haters get in the way

• Be willing to change at a moment’s notice

• Mistakes are not always bad

• Why not me?

• Always put yourself in the position to win.

And finally

• Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice. It already knows what you want to become.

BEAVER CREEK — Colorado Mountain College’s 2016 theme is “Pursue Your Excellence,” and on Friday night a record number of graduates kicked off commencement season when they turned their tassels from right to left and strode confidently in that pursuit.

Many CMC graduates do not take the freeway to their college degrees, i.e. four years on someone else’s dime. Most juggle jobs and lives with their studies.

For example, Emily Martinez, student graduation speaker, earned a 4.0 grade point average on her way to a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

She juggled two jobs and a family with school.

“I still wonder how I survived calculus,” she said as her classmates laughed knowingly.

Martinez’ mother was only 55 years old when she died of breast cancer, and she spent countless hours caring for her. Martinez had a 16-year-old daughter at the same time to care for as well.

Her mother’s death taught her that “time flies and life is short.” She refused to let her children waste their time or opportunities.

One day, her daughter asked, “Mom, what do you want?”

So she made a bucket list and went skydiving. Fear of falling to her death followed, so she took a rock climbing class. Fear continued, so she took another rock climbing course and went to college.

“Action cures fear,” she said.

Of course there will be failure and disappointment, but you are greater than your fears, Martinez said.

“I challenge you tonight to silence your fears and pursue your excellence,” Martinez said.

It’s a celebration

For a moment, the crowd wasn’t sure how somber this occasion was supposed to be.

Relax, said Dr. Kathryn Regjo, vice president and head of the CMC Edwards campus.

“This is a celebration. It’s our favorite day of the year,” Regjo told the standing-room-only Vilar Center crowd.

“Put yourself in a position to win”

Commencement speaker Carol Lewis-Zilli knows all about pursuing excellence.

She was an Olympian at 16, four-time United States national track and field champion, the first woman to long jump more than 23 feet, embarked on a career as a network sports commentator and took a “hard right turn” when she hung up her microphone and married an Italian man she met at the base of Golden Peak during a benefit ski event.

Excellence is not easy, but it’s worth it, Lewis-Zilli said. She has lived it, and seen it.

Her parents were the first in their families to graduate college, and they drilled the importance of attending college into her.

She was born the youngest of four with three older brothers in Alabama during the early 1960s. Her parents moved to New Jersey so their children would have better opportunities.

Lewis-Zilli said she appreciates the athletic honors, but it’s her college degree that makes her most proud.

She comes by that honestly, too.

Like many people of his time, Lewis-Zilli’s grandfather didn’t think there was much need to send women to college.

Like many other people of her time, Lewis-Zilli’s grandmother disagreed, and worked outside their home for the first time to pay for her daughter’s Tuskegee college education.

Her mother was also a track star and competed internationally.

“No one ever thought a skinny girl from Gadsden, Alabama, would ever travel so far from home,” her mother said.

She excelled at Tuskegee, changing her grandfather’s mind and lots of lives along the way. He put her two younger sisters through college.

So of course it should surprise no one that, like her mother before her, Carol Lewis-Zilli is an overachiever.

She’s pursuing her Master of Business Administration in human resources, and putting herself “in a position to win,” she said.

She’s teaching 35 kids at Eagle County Charter Academy the same thing, where she’s their track coach.

Leading by example is a trait shared by many of CMC’s Class of 2016. Several stood on stage and thanked their families, especially their children.

If I can do it, you can do it, they said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vail daily.com.