Colorado Mountain College graduates one of its largest classes ever

Despite COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of students earn degrees and certificates

Phil Dunn
Special to the Post Independent
Graduates of CMC's Roaring Fork campuses line up before the start of commencement on Saturday.
Photo by Stephanie Stocking

Commencement at Colorado Mountain College is always a special day, but this year was different.

And, not different because students wore masks or because they had to physically distance. Different, in that commencement was not just a fleeting moment of joy. It was a triumphant celebration for hundreds of students who overcame hardship after hardship to get to this point.

Students, who in the face of a devastating pandemic, ruthless wildfires and divisive civil unrest, had the courage to push forward and make this one of the largest graduating classes in the history of Colorado Mountain College.

Many students took advantage of more flexible class offerings and the CMC Responds initiative, which included waiving tuition, books and fees for the summer 2020 semester to help those affected by the pandemic.

“Life sometimes takes its turns unexpectedly, but it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” said Carrie Besnette Hauser, president and CEO of Colorado Mountain College. “I’m so proud of our students. They really turned a curveball of a year into a home run.”

Collegewide, hundreds of students crossed the graduation stage to earn a variety of associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees and certificates.

At CMC’s Spring Valley campus outside of Glenwood Springs, students from the college’s campuses throughout the Roaring Fork Valley celebrated with family members and friends on Saturday during several ceremonies.

Shaped by CMC

Student speaker Adele Craft addresses the crowd on Saturday during the commencement ceremony at CMC Spring Valley.
Photo by Stephanie Stocking

Commencement student speaker Adele Craft, 21, of Carbondale, is no stranger to CMC. She took classes at the Aspen, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Spring Valley campuses and received her Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability Studies.

Craft’s primary and secondary education consisted of a mix of public education, home- and self-schooling, with CMC playing a big part.

“I was 12 when I took a geology course with my dad at CMC and I was hooked,” Craft said. Her first credit classes followed at 13.

“By my junior and senior years, I was taking more CMC classes than high school classes,” Craft added.

That allowed her to graduate from Bridges High School with an Associate of Arts degree already in hand in 2017.

“After these last eight to nine years of taking CMC classes, it’s both exciting and sad to graduate,” Craft added. “CMC has definitely helped shape who I am now.”

Going to college changed my life

Education runs in the Avila family of Aspen. Born in California, Norma Avila, 43, grew up in Mexico, worked at Alpine Bank and now for Pitkin County. Her son, David, 23, has a learning disability and, after graduation from Aspen High School, worried he would not get the support he had in high school if he went on to college.

“So, I quit my job and told him I would go to school with him,” Norma Avila said. “We took a few classes together at CMC and helped each other.”

A second son, Abraham, 21, will also graduate from CMC. He earned the Alpine Bank First Generation Scholarship and plans to continue his education at the University of Denver.

At Saturday’s ceremonies, all three Avilas – Norma, Abraham and David – earned degrees. Norma Avila received an associate degree in bookkeeping and plans to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at CMC.

“Going to college has changed my life and I hope my story helps inspire other parents,” Avila said.

Making fine art is a passion

Cody Andrew first enrolled in CMC classes in 2012 after graduating from Denver Academy, an alternative high school. “I was on my own financially, and I came in without much drive and motivation to finish,” he said.

The first thing Andrew did was secure a full-time job at the Spring Valley campus dining hall. While working toward a degree in graphic arts, he also learned to cook.

In 2015, he left CMC to cook professionally but soon discovered that life in the kitchen left no room for his art, his true calling. So, Andrew returned to CMC to complete his degree in professional photography.

“Having a day job is great, but making fine art is a passion,” he said. “The amenities of the photography department at CMC are the best in the state, and the teachers always pushed me to do better. That’s something I’m going to miss.”

Colorado Mountain College’s 2021 Roaring Fork Commencement included several ceremonies on Friday, May 7 and Saturday, May 8. In total there were four ceremonies held: Colorado Law Enforcement Academy (CLETA), Nursing, Career/Technical Certificates/Degrees, and Associate of Arts/Associate of Science/Associate of General Studies/ Bachelor’s Degrees.

Due to Garfield County COVID-19 restrictions each graduate could invite two guests. Ceremonies were also livestreamed, so those not in attendance could watch live from home.

Phil Dunn works as public information manager for Colorado Mountain College.