Colorado Mountain College Vail Valley graduates find success through many paths
Vail Valley campus celebrates the Class of 2023 during Friday's commencement at the Vilar
BEAVER CREEK — For the 2023 graduates of Colorado Mountain College Vail Valley, Friday night’s commencement at the Vilar Performing Arts Center marked the end of a road paved with their commitment, hard work, determination and resilience.
“At the Vail Valley campus, our students reflect the community we live in. We have many first-generation students who are working to create a legacy for their siblings and their communities. We also have many students who are working two or three jobs to support themselves and their families while they complete their college coursework,” said Mark Brennan, the Vail Valley campus vice president and dean. “What I see when I look at our students are individuals who are dedicated, hardworking and determined to succeed.”
Since the summer of 2022, 251 students have earned 287 bachelor’s and associate degrees, diplomas, certificates of occupational proficiency, and credentials from the college’s Vail Valley campus. This number includes 44 Eagle County high school students who received degrees or certificates as part of its dual enrollment program with the local high schools.
Helen Drexler, the CEO of Delta Dental of Colorado, delivered Friday’s keynote speech, a nod to the organization’s support of the college preparing to launch its new dental hygiene education program at the Vail Valley campus by fall 2024.
Drexler imparted three mantras to help guide graduates through the next phase of their lives and careers:
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“Be yourself. Why? Everyone else is taken.”
“Mess up, fess up, move on.”
“Never forget that passion loves company.”
Drexler imparted wisdom on the importance of leaning into strengths to set yourself apart, the value of vulnerability and learning from your mistakes, as well as the significance of doing something you love.
“Knowing that you will be joining this region’s workforce with your degrees from CMC is also priceless; for you and this community. That’s what I call divine compensation — knowing you are doing something that matters and that you love what you do,” Drexler said. “My hope for all of you today is that you seize this moment and whatever path you pursue, you’ll find some form of divine compensation in your future.”
Different paths to success
Addressing her peers, Ana Vallado Pankow, receiving her bachelor’s degree in elementary education, acknowledged the many paths to success the graduates have taken.
“The commitment to finish a bachelor’s degree takes a lot of effort. We all took different roads to accomplish it. Some of you took three, four years. Some of us took it a little slower than that,” Vallado Pankow said. “No matter what route you took, we did it.”
As each graduate walked across the stage, they were given the opportunity to speak, give gratitude and commemorate the moment. On this occasion, many students acknowledged their own journeys to the stage on Friday. This included stories of second degrees and careers to parents returning to school as well as first-generation students.
Nichole Lambert is a 37-year-old student who returned to CMC to complete an associate degree in health sciences after 19 years.
“I’m an Eagle County native, and while I took a few classes at CMC when I was 18, I left to work at the Christie Lodge for 13 years,” Lambert said in a CMC press release. “Later, I got a job working at the district attorney’s office as a victim advocate, and I was exposed to a lot of social work experience.”
Lambert now is planning to continue her education with the ultimate goal of becoming a licensed clinical worker through a master’s degree at the University of Denver.
The gratitude by many of the graduates was shared with their family members, friends, teachers and support along the way.
“I want to take a moment to recognize all of the immigrants who are out here tonight who were brave enough to go out and search for a better life for your children and your families. Because of you, there are people like me,” said Karla Juarez-Ramos, graduating with a bachelor of arts in elementary education.
Amy Hanley, graduating with a bachelor of arts in elementary education, referred to an old adage in her speech: “They say it takes a village to raise a child. It took a village to get me here.”
Magdalena Gembal, graduating with a bachelor of science in business administration with an accounting emphasis, acknowledged the role Colorado Mountain College takes in opening up these possibilities.
“Thank you to all the other staff and the entity itself for making higher education accessible and affordable,” Gembal said.
The collective path, Vallado Pankow added, wasn’t easy either.
“A lot of things happened, and we lived a reality that we never thought possible. Studying for a career comes with a lot of sacrifices, hours of study and dedication. Without anyone knowing we came across a pandemic that flipped our world upside down. It changed the dynamics of school, work and life,” she said. “All of this happened when we were all trying to accomplish a dream.”
Each graduate took a different path to arrive at Friday’s commencement, but one trait they all could celebrate was perseverance.
“For the graduates we are celebrating today, you no doubt embarked on your educational journey with a little idea of some of the challenges that would lay ahead,” Brennan said. “I’m sure there were many times when you asked yourself, ‘Can I do this? Will I ever finish this?’ Well, we are here now to celebrate with you because you did.”
As the 2023 graduates look ahead at diverse careers — be it in education, sustainability, health care, emergency response, law or the other pathways enabled — Brennan noted that their next chapter is just beginning.
“It is now time to take both the challenges you’ve encountered along the way and the triumph of this journey and turn it into your next success story,” Brennan said.