Adams State commencement speakers share wisdom and humor


The Commencement Ceremony begins solemnly, replete with presentation of the colors, recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and playing of the traditional Pomp and Circumstance. But anticipation and excitement build as graduates enter Plachy Hall Gymnasium to make their transition to Adams State University alumni. Audience members cheer as their graduates take their seats. That encouragement accelerates into hoots and hollers as they walk across the stage to accept their well-earned college diplomas.

Adams State awarded 156 degrees on December 17, including 131 bachelor's degrees and 25 associate's degrees. The featured speakers kept up the jovial spirit, interspersing humor throughout their remarks. The commencement address was given by Stan Hilkey, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety, and the graduating class was represented by Eric J. Learn.

Student speaker Eric Learn (second from right) with faculty and fellow School of Business graduates.

Learn expressed appreciation for the work of Adams State faculty. "The most admirable part about what these folks do is that, as my peers and I move onto our own adventures, they will continue to teach and educate younger generations. You have done us all a major service, so on behalf of the graduating class of Fall 2016, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts — and wallets — for everything you have taught us, inside and outside of the classroom."

Learn earned a B.S. in business administration, accounting emphasis, plus two minors, one in taxation and one in adventure leadership and programming. He has an accounting job waiting for him once he completes the Master's in Taxation program at the University of Denver and becomes a Certified Public Accountant.

Another theme that carried through the ceremony was that of self-reflection and improvement. The Music Department's 68 West a capella group opened the ceremony by performing Michael Jackson's Man in the Mirror, which says in part:

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways.
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place.

Commencement speaker Stan Hilkey illustrates his points with stories from his law enforcement career.

Commencement speaker Stan Hilkey conveyed the same notion, concluding his talk with the poem Man in the Glass by Dale Wimbrow, which he keeps by a mirror in his office. The poem begins:

When you get what you want in your struggle for self,
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to a mirror and look at yourself,
And see what THAT man has to say.

Hilkey shared his perspective on the power of relationships, the need for great character, and the importance of education. "I've learned by personal experience that the best way to build character and relationships at the same time is to pay attention to how you behave when you make a mistake, or when you don't perform at your best or when you let someone down. . . I have gained so much in my life by raising my hand and being the first to admit that I could have done better." Hilkey jokingly told the graduates to plan a big mistake in order to learn this important lesson. "Education matters," he said, "because it teaches you HOW to think. It causes you to understand the need for continuous improvement. And it produces important future leaders."

Adams State awarded Hilkey an Honorary Doctorate of State and Local Government in recognition of his 30-year career in law enforcement. Prior to joining Governor Hickenlooper's cabinet, he served as sheriff of Mesa County, Colo. Fellow law enforcement professionals present to witness the honor included Alamosa Chief of Police Duane Oaks, Alamosa County Sheriff Robert Jackson and Undersheriff Shawn Woods, Colorado State Patrol Sargent Rodney Noga, Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor; and Interim Chief of Adams State Police Erika Derouin-Green.

"This is a wonderful surprise," Hilkey said of the diploma. "It's also ironic. I talked about investing in others; I came to invest in you, and I receive this. This is one of coolest things that has ever happened to me."

By Julie Waechter