Adams State commencement creates connections of inspiration


Commencement at Adams State University quickly dispels any doubt that higher education creates positive ripples of motivation and achievement. At the spring ceremony, May 15, everyone from babes in arms to grandparents in wheelchairs caught the excitement and sense of belonging to something greater; although, at least one infant had no trouble napping as the standing-room-only crowd cheered the procession of graduates.

Dr. David Svaldi presided over his concluding graduation ceremonies as president, with the university awarding 256 bachelor's degrees, 45 associate degrees, and 288 master's degrees. Those graduates, in turn, will be inspiring role models.

Arnold Salazar, an Adams State alumnus and current chair of the Adams State Board of Trustees, gave a perfect example of the influence Adams State graduates have on their families and community. He pointed out in the audience his former Boy Scout leader and middle school teacher, Amos Bernal. "He is one of the greatest educators this valley has ever known," Salazar said. Bernal was recently inducted into the Adams State Educator Hall of Fame; he earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Adams State in 1964 and 1973.

Twenty family members travelled from Albuquerque to celebrate graduation with Jessica Palacio, who earned two business administration degrees: a B.A. in advertising and a B.S. in accounting. Judith Valentina Martinez, a native of Coahuila, Mexico, was feted by eight friends and relatives who made the trip from Denver. She earned a B.A. in art with emphases in graphic design, photography, and art history.

Judith Martinez, Tina Milton and the entire graduating class of 2015 turn switch their tassels from right to left, signifying completion of their bachelor's degrees.

Salazar also noted another of the day's milestones, "The graduation of Dr. David Svaldi into retirement." He then read and presented a proclamation from the State of Colorado in which Gov. John Hickenlooper proclaimed May 15, 2015, as "David P. Svaldi Day." The proclamation specifically noted Adams State's designation as a university on May 18, 2012; its campus improvements and growth in enrollment, academic, and athletic programs; and Svaldi's commitment to Adams State's Mission, which is "to educate, serve, and inspire our diverse populations in the pursuit of their lifelong dreams and ambitions."

ASU Board of Trustees Chair Arnold Salazar presents President David Svaldi with a proclamation from Colorado Governor Hickenlooper.

Ashley Favela, also from Albuquerque, gave the address on behalf of the 2015 graduates. She graduated cum laude with a B.A. in interdisciplinary studies and served as president of the Grizzly Activity Board.

Recalling her first days at Adams State, she said, "I am a nerd; I had the color-coded folders, everything. But I started freaking out. Fortunately, my first class was with Mr. Wreford - and that was just the cure for my nerves. I realized I was going to be OK and persist through this experience called college."

Wreford, an adjunct instructor who teaches freshman English, was recently honored with the university's Presidential Teacher Award.

Favela said, "I remember feeling rewarded and encouraged by all the leaders around me. . . In the department of Teacher Education and the Student Life Center, I learned it is important not only to listen to others, but to look within yourself and work on the things you need to work on. That is the only way to be a better teacher and person in general."

Quoting George Bernard Shaw, who said: "Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself," Favela added, "Here at Adams State, we were provided with opportunity to grow and create our young adult selves. It is important to remember we have the ability to continually create ourselves - whether through further education, the workforce, or traveling the world."

Ashley Favela addresses the class of 2015.

The undergraduate Commencement Address was given by former Adams State Trustee Mark Cavanaugh, who for the last five years was Chief Financial Officer for the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

He expounded on key words often associated with commencement. "Let's start with what we call today - 'graduation' and 'commencement.' We use these titles interchangeably, but think about it - they mean totally different things - almost opposite of each other. "Graduating is the idea is that you've just completed something important. On the other hand, the common meaning of commencement is to start something, not finish it - confusing, right? So what exactly are we marking here today? The fact you've completed something big and significant, or the fact that you are at the threshold of a new journey in your life? The answer to that question is 'YES.'" Cavanaugh referenced the past with the words "sacrifice" and "gratitude," noting, "We didn't accomplish the big thing we celebrate today entirely by ourselves - and this contribution from others may have started a long time ago. . . Maybe someone said, 'I didn't have the opportunity to go to college myself, but I want that for you.'

Undergraduate Commencement Speaker Mark Cavanaugh shares thoughts at the ASU spring commencement ceremony.

"In most cases, other people had to make serious sacrifices to give us the opportunity to be here today. Trust me when I tell you that we are not alone here in the Fieldhouse today. We are joined by ghosts - the invisible ghosts of vacations untaken, cars unrepaired or long un-replaced. . . the ghost-dream of a beautiful Harley Davidson never purchased . . . the spirit of a really nice never-completed kitchen renovation."

Representing the present, Cavanaugh talked about "intention" and "confidence." "You chose, you 'intended' today into reality. And college can be the cradle of lasting confidence and leadership. I assure you that whatever path you choose, and whatever challenges you will face, your time here at Adams State - especially the tough times - will provide a ready reservoir of strength to be tapped into when facing future challenges. They will pay dividends over and over again."

"Responsibility" and "purpose" were the words Cavanaugh referenced for the future. "Leaders have a responsibility to lead, to serve, to give back. And purpose? It is just another way of saying, whatever you do, make it worth the doing - make it meaningful. So who will be the beneficiary of your leadership, your advice, guidance and sacrifice?"

He concluded by telling the graduates, "You deserve to be proud. This thing you've done here, you've accomplished, is utterly yours. It couldn't be given to you and now it can't be taken from you."

Annaliesa Simone Connor-Meissner receives her master's hood from Jenny Gawronski, assistant professor of art, and Dr. Ed Crowther, professor of history, at the 2015 Graduate Commencement Ceremony. Connor-Meissner earned her master's degree in art.

By Julie Waechter