Adams State awards record number of degrees

(05-12-2014)

Maybe it was the power of Adams State University's largest graduating class ever – 333 – that calmed the San Luis Valley's notorious spring winds the morning of May 10. At any rate, commencement morning dawned warm, under blue skies.

"Adams State's largest graduating class – this is just amazing to me," said Arnold Salazar, chair of the Board of Trustees for Adams State. "It was made possible by many people who have put their faith in Adams State: parents, friends, and many others who have sacrificed to make this day possible for our students."

The morning ceremony feted undergraduates, then an afternoon event awarded 275 master's degrees. When Adams State President David Svaldi asked all undergraduates to stand who were the first in their families to earn a college degree, nearly half of the graduates present did so.

In addition to the graduates, Adams State honored four emeritus faculty upon their retirement from the university: Dr. Marjorie Herrington, biology; Dr. Christine Keitges, music; Dr. David Mazel, English; and Dr. Teri McCartney, counselor education.

Adams State 1982 alumna Cathy Mullens, the first woman to be elected a district attorney in Colorado, gave the undergraduate commencement address, "Great Stories: Right Here, Right Now."

The day's festive atmosphere was punctuated by a bittersweet moment, when Adam C. Williams was awarded a posthumous bachelor of science degree in earth sciences - physical geography. A senior, Williams passed away late in the semester, having just been elected AS&F's Vice President for External Affairs and Student Trustee for the coming academic year. Current Student Trustee Benjamin Evans accepted the diploma and presented it to Williams' parents, John and Peggy Williams, who had traveled from Pennsylvania for the ceremony.

The message on behalf of the Class of 2014 was given by Hanna Hays, who graduated magna cum laude with a degree in English and secondary education. Reflecting on her recent student teaching experience in Center Middle School, she noted her students had one thing in common: "They are tired. I'm sure you can relate. That is biggest reason that freshman year in college becomes the year of sleep. . . Wake me up when it's all over, when I'm wiser and older. Four years? That's a lifetime. Now is the end of our time as undergraduates, and we're being awakened."

She then quoted from Dylan Thomas' "Do not go gentle into that good night," and told her fellow graduates: "You can't sleep your way through life. . . Take your well-rested mind and knowledge, and shout it to the world. ... Then, if you have time, take a nap."

Commencement speaker Mullens expanded on that theme as she told of her own "Great Story."

"It is particularly gratifying to be here today. When I crossed this stage to receive my degree 32 years ago, I did not see this coming." She recalled accomplishments that caused her to think: "It doesn't get any better than this."

"When I first set foot on this campus, I was 31 years old, had two small children, and didn't know if I was college material. My folks worked in a coal mining camp in West Virginia. No one had ever gone to college, let alone graduate school. But I knew I wanted to go to law school and become a prosecutor."

She remembers "weaseling" her way into a 300-level course taught by Carlos Lucero, a 1961 Adams State graduate who later became the first Hispanic appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

"I got A's and thought, 'Maybe I can do this.' My professors acted like I could. They didn't coddle me, didn't give me special treatment. What they did was take me seriously. . . They treated my plans and my dreams as if they expected them to come to fruition. Of course I would go to law school."

As a new attorney, having earned her J.D. from Campbell University, Mullens successfully argued a case before the Colorado Supreme Court that changed law. Then, just ten years after graduating college, she was elected District Attorney for the Twelfth Judicial District (the San Luis Valley). "

I was so thrilled. I had a job I absolutely loved and the honor of walking into courtrooms and helping the people of Colorado." She quoted from Mary Oliver's "When Death Comes," saying, "The greatest affirmation of life I've ever found is, ironically, a poem about death."

When it's over, I don't want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened or full of argument. I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

"Live your life. Don't just visit," Mullens told the graduates. "You've spent four years to earn a degree . . . you have created a foundation. You have begun your story. It's your story, and the way it works out in large measure is up to you.

"Professors here taught me how to think critically, to analyze a problem, to present a cogent argument, and to stand up in front of people and talk. Because Adams State University is an inclusive, rather than exclusive school, I was given an opportunity to pursue my dreams. To live, not just visit. My great story began here. Yours does too. Right here, right now."

By Julie Waechter