2011 class final crop of grads under old Mesa State moniker

An ecstatic Karen Lidberg clutches her diploma as she walks off the stage during Mesa State College’s commencement exercises Sunday. Lidberg graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music education and music performance.

Mesa State College likely graduated its last class Sunday.

Next year’s degrees from the institution will say Colorado Mesa University if Gov. John Hickenlooper signs a bill allowing the college to change its name, something he is expected to do soon.

During the school’s 86th graduation ceremony, 1,206 students from Mesa State’s Grand Junction and Montrose campuses and Western Colorado Community College accepted 1,279 degrees and certificates. Associated Student Government President Nick Lopez encouraged students to take their diplomas and “put it to good use.”

“We have long been told our class is the future,” Lopez said. “Now, we answer that call as the future becomes the present.”

Six days after graduating from Mesa State with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, Jake Richmeier, 22, will embrace his future by marrying former Mesa State student Sabrina Estrada this Saturday in Denver. The Wheat Ridge native plans to spend the next year working for a sports academy in Denver before heading to Cheney, Wash. to earn a Master’s of Science in exercise science from Eastern Washington University.

Richmeier came to Mesa State on a football scholarship and played the sport his freshman and sophomore years. Few opponents would guess the formidable foe bearing down on them during a game couldn’t hear a thing with his helmet on.

Richmeier was born with full hearing but lost all hearing in his left ear and 40 to 60 percent of his hearing in his right ear at a young age. He was 17 months old when he was diagnosed with spinal meningitis and spent three weeks in the hospital. He was in a natural or medically induced coma the entire time he was in the hospital.

A year later, his family noticed he wasn’t listening when they spoke to him. That’s when they found out he could hear only out of his right ear, and even then the sound was muffled.

Richmeier went to a school designed to help hard of hearing and deaf students, but decided he wanted something different when he was in 10th grade. He transferred to Wheat Ridge High School and had interpreters help him by signing what was going on in class and at football practice. He gained two new interpreters in college who signed what professors said in class.

“People think it’s different or strange, but to me it’s normal,” Richmeier said.

It gets difficult for him to hear over background noise in group situations and keep track of who is talking so he can read lips. But Richmeier said his hearing loss didn’t keep him from a normal college life. He could hear enough to converse with friends, work at the Monfort Family Human Performance Lab and have one-on-one talks without an interpreter’s help.

“I don’t keep it a secret, but I don’t go around gloating about” my hearing loss, Richmeier said. “When I meet people for the first time, they usually don’t notice.”

It was Richmeier’s idea to have an interpreter translate the commencement program into sign language. It wasn’t just for his benefit. Last year, he attended a graduation on the Front Range and noticed two deaf women in the audience. He felt bad they had no one to interpret the ceremony for them, and wanted to make sure deaf and hard of hearing people in Sunday’s audience didn’t have the same experience.


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