BEAVER CREEK — For the students graduating from Colorado Mountain College’s Vail Valley Campus on Friday night, the commencement ceremony marked just the beginning. Perhaps, it marked the beginning of new careers, of an educational journey, of a new adventure or simply of a new life chapter — but all graduates were beginning with a new degree or certificate from the local college.
“To the graduates we are celebrating today, we know you embarked on your education journey with little idea of the challenges that lay ahead. I’m sure there were many times when you asked yourself, ‘Can I do this? Will I get there?’ Well we are now here to celebrate with you because you did,” said Marc Brennan, vice president and dean of Colorado Mountain College’s Vail Valley Campus, at Friday’s commencement.
“It is now time to take both the challenges you encountered along the way and the triumph of your journey and turn it into your next success story, because that chapter is just beginning to unfold,” Brennan continued.
The Class of 2022
Colorado Mountain College’s Vail Valley campus returned to the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek on Friday evening for its 2022 commencement ceremony. The campus celebrated over 300 graduates, completing a myriad of certificates as well as bachelors and associates degrees. Not all 300 graduates walked at the ceremony.
Of these, 100 were local high school students that took advantage of the concurrent enrollment classes between the college and Eagle County School District. Fourteen of these students participated in the commencement ceremony.
Brennan, in addressing the group at the start of the ceremony, emphasized the diversity and range of the 2022 class of graduates.
“At the Vail Valley Campus, the students reflect the community we live in: We have many first-generation students who are working to create a legacy for their siblings and their communities; we have many students who are working two or three jobs to support themselves and their families while they complete their degree,” he said. “What I see when I look at our students are individuals who are dedicated, hard-working and determined to succeed.”
The group of graduates on Friday definitely reflected the community. Among them were everyone from high school students including Victoria Aragon, who recently received the Boettcher Scholarship, early childhood employees seeking certification, future teachers, future restaurant owners and even Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek.
Van Beek graduated on Friday with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Leadership and Management from the campus. Addressing the crowd — as all graduates who walked were invited to do — van Beek said that following his high school graduation 39 years ago, he’s had a long journey of figuring out what he wanted to do when he grew up.
“I’ve been continuously going to school, with a primary focus on technical schools. (I was trained in auto mechanics and then helicopters before going into law enforcement.) I’d gotten my degree in criminal justice, but I wanted to challenge myself and expand my knowledge and experience that didn’t just focus on criminal justice but lent to my current position,” Van Beek said in a Thursday interview with the Vail Daily. “CMC offered exactly what I was looking for as far as degree programs; staff that was available to assist in any way, the flexibility in class schedules, excellent instructors and curriculum, and it was close to home.”
While van Beek’s future after graduation may be slightly different than that of some his fellow graduates — namely continuing his current role, and running for re-election in November — he did impart some words of wisdom to his classmates on Friday.
“Because I’m probably the oldest one in the group here, one of the lessons I’m going to give you is: Remember as you go out into the world, you want to work to live, you don’t want to live to work,” he said.
Also among the graduates was Diana Loera, who earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with two endorsements: culturally and linguistically diverse education (and bilingual education specialist). Loera has already been hired to teach at Edwards Elementary in the fall. For her, she’s excited for the future and shaping the minds of her future students.
“CMC has been an incredible support during my pathway obtaining my degree,” Loera said. “CMC provided me with the academic, emotional and financial help I needed to achieve my dream of becoming a bilingual and multicultural educator.”
Also in the class was Julissa Olivares, a first-generation college student that earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. Olivares received a scholarship from TRIO — a federally funded program, specifically for first-generation students — to attend the school. With her degree, she plans to increase financial literacy in the local community as a financial advisor.
Other graduates walked across the stage celebrating new futures that utilize their degrees, be it in nursing, culinary management, emergency medicine, biology, information technology, criminal justice and more.
“(CMC is) a magical place and a lot of people don’t realize how spectacular it is and being a student is and how much your support of us really gets us here, so thank you so much,” said Angela Gould, choking back tears as she walked across the stage to receive her Bachelor of Applied Science in Leadership and Management.
One graduate, Theley Sherpa, who earned both an associate’s degree in business and a bachelor’s in business administration, likened his Colorado Mountain College journey to a familiar Eagle County experience.
“This journey was like learning how to ski moguls, it was hard and I knew it was going to hurt me, but it was so much fun and there was a lot of happiness when I crossed the finish line,” Sherpa said.
For what the future holds
Whatever the future holds for the graduates as the exit Colorado Mountain College — with the turn of a tassel — is ultimately up to them. Imparting some words of wisdom onto the graduates, commencement speaker Melina Valsecia encouraged the students to move forward with resilience, curiosity, perseverance and joy.
“This is a journey, this is a big accomplishment; you should be proud, your parents should be proud,” Valsecia said. “So as my tears go down, I hope you feel the same. This is the beginning of a new life, this is the beginning of you getting to choose what’s next.”
Valsecia herself moved to Eagle County in 2007 from South America. Born and raised in the countryside of Argentina, Valsecia received an undergraduate degree in nutrition in Paraguay and a master’s degree in public health and health education.
Initially, when Valsecia came to Eagle County, she had one goal: to get to the base of the mountain in one season, something she was able to achieve in mere days. And once she achieved her goal, she was able to just enjoy the experience of skiing, she said when addressing the graduates on Friday.
“Don’t ever forget to have joy in whatever you do. Follow your gut, follow your instinct, but you have to be happy on the way, you have to feel joy,” she said. “If it doesn’t make you happy — start exploring. Embrace it, and I hope you understand, it will take you to other places.”
Now, Valsecia serves as the executive director of the Eagle Valley Community Foundation, serving as an advocate for the health and well-being of local families and children. Her journey, she said, was one driven by curiosity and a passion to learn, despite any challenges or barriers she faced along the way.
“I think I got to do everything I did in these 40 years because I didn’t stop asking questions,” she said. “What is it that makes you curious? That is the challenge you have from now on. But I would embrace this because curiosity is going to take you places, it’s going to make you meet people, it’s going to make your career grow.”
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at [email protected]