CMC graduations celebrate students’ success |

CMC graduations celebrate students’ success

Colorado Mountain College at Spring Valley will be bustling today and Saturday, with four separate graduation ceremonies planned for about 250 students from Aspen to Glenwood.

On Friday, Rifle Police Chief John Dyer will address the Colorado Law Enforcement Training Academy graduates at 1 p.m. at the New Space Theatre in the Calaway Academic Building. Commencement for students receiving bachelor’s degrees in business administration or sustainability studies will be held at 6 p.m. at the New Space Theatre, with Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron as the speaker. It is the first time the bachelor’s program has had its own ceremony.

On Saturday, the nursing program will conduct a pinning and graduation ceremony for its graduates at 8:30 a.m. at the Spring Valley Student Center gymnasium, with nursing faculty member Rebecca Loth Luetke giving the graduation address. Finally, commencement ceremonies for all other students receiving associate degrees and certificates will be held at 11 a.m. at the Spring Valley gymnasium. CMC President Carrie Besnette Hauser will be the keynote speaker.

Even before the festivities begin, the public will have a chance to see what students have been up to as sustainability graduates present their capstone projects on topics ranging from homelessness to wolves at the Third Street Center in Carbondale beginning at 10 a.m. Friday.


Student body vice president and longtime resident adviser Alex Curtiss will be among them, presenting on sustainability through service.

Curtiss, a 28-year-old from St. Paul, Minnesota, had his doubts about higher education.

“I was not sure that I was going to be able to make it through college because my reading and writing and math skills were below level,” he said.

Instead, he spent two years in AmeriCorps before he heard about CMC from an instructor on an expedition in Baja California in 2010.

“I didn’t know anyone in Colorado, but I came home, talked to my family about it, and drove here,” he said. “When I stepped through CMC’s doors, I felt that this was my place.”

Although he originally planned to transfer to the University of Colorado Boulder to pursue a degree in anthropology, he decided instead to enroll in CMC’s fledgling sustainability program.

“CMC is producing a network that spans out and helps build capacity for not just our valley but other communities that are adopting sustainability,” he said. “The sustainability program teaches you about interdependence and how it’s possible for the human environment and the natural world to coexist. It’s almost like a social work program where you’re also learning how to mend the relationship between humans and the earth.

“Graduation for me is not a closing ceremony, it’s a transitional ceremony. I’m in it for the long haul,” he added. “I feel responsible for making sure that the sustainability movement turns into a practice of building community, and not just cool lingo for corporations to adopt.”

In the fall, Curtiss will begin a two-year sustainable national development program at Brandeis University in Boston — a highly competitive school to which he was elated to be accepted.

“I just couldn’t believe it, because academia was not in my background,” he said. “I finally felt like all the hard work I’ve been putting in over the years had paid off.”

Curtiss is just one of many success stories at CMC.


Take Lamine Kane, who hails from Senegal, in West Africa, and speaks five languages: English, Spanish, French, Fulani and Wolof.

Kane first came to Colorado in 2005, but returned to Africa for several years to help out and get hands-on medical experience. Although he could have pursued a higher education for free in Senegal, he opted to return for a more robust program in the United States.

“I want a degree because that’s what society says I need, but mainly I want wisdom from those I come across in college,” he explained.

Kane has been heavily involved in student government and served as Residence Hall Association president and vice president of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. He’s been particularly devoted to easing the transition for other immigrants.

“I had a really rough time when I moved to this country, and I wanted to make that experience better,” he said. “I think we have a pretty strong, growing community of international students.”

In the fall, he enrolls in the International Studies program at Colorado State University with the hope of someday working for the United Nations.

“We can’t settle. If a road shows up in front of us, we’ve got to drive on it,” he said.

Although CMC is just one leg of the journey, he’s learned to recognize its significance.

“CMC has played a big role in who I’ve become,” he said. “I’ve always been a dreamer, and this school has made me believe that I can make them come true. It’s not just the model, it’s the people.

Kane hopes some of his friends and family back home will be able to watch the ceremony online.

“At first, I didn’t think it was something big, but given where I’ve come from, it’s a big step,” he said.


Then there’s Bebly Machado, born in Glenwood but raised in Mexico. She finished high school in Rifle and enrolled at CMC with the hope of studying tourism. Her father died during her first year, prompting her to take a semester off.

When she returned, she decided to pursue psychology.

“I realized if I study tourism, it only helps me in the company,” she said. “Psychology really helps everyone I come in contact with.”

Ideally, she’d like to take her Associate of Arts to Colorado Mesa University, but if that proves too expensive, she plans to pursue a full degree at CMC, where she already has scholarships.

“I really like it here. I think CMC’s a really amazing institution. It feels like home,” she said.

“The teachers get to know you and get interested in your education.”


Wendell Iliff, graduating with an Associate of Applied Science degree in graphic design, plans to return to CMC next year for a degree in digital media production, a field in which he already has some experience through the Isaacson School for New Media.

“It was a lot of fun. It really brought me out of my shell,” he said. “It’s still kind of a baby, but it’s changed a lot. They’ve just become so much more cutting edge.”

Iliff was born and raised in Leadville and came to the Roaring Fork campus to study IT.

“A lot of people who graduate from high school want to move away and see what else is out there,” he said. “Other people see it as an opportunity. You can’t really beat in-district tuition rates.”

About halfway through his IT degree, he “started getting really jealous of everything that was coming out of the graphic design program.”

Instead of switching entirely, he finished both. Next year, he’ll be off campus and moving toward a higher goal.

“I’ve spent so much time figuring out what I wanted to do and accumulating associate degrees that I feel like I should get a bachelor’s,” he reflected.

Returning next year changes the dynamic of graduation a bit.

“It’s not as bittersweet as it is for a lot of other graduates,” he admitted.

“It’s a really nice ceremony,” he added. “It’ll be good to see my classmates one more time.”

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