Mesa State’s pomp and circumstance

'Be part of something that is bigger than yourself,’ governor tells 880 graduates

Lauren Sell can’t hold back her excitement as she dances down the walkway from the podium after receiving her diploma at Mesa State College’s commencement Saturday. Sell majored in kineseology

Keith Hejl was a bit more emotional than he thought he would be, watching his wife, Billie JoAnn, graduate Saturday from Mesa State College with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

While hundreds of graduates strolled across the stage at Stocker Stadium, Keith recalled an academic journey that started six years ago.

“She’s probably the first one in our family with a degree,” he said proudly. “It’s a struggle for everybody. It’s kind of nice to see them finish.”

Judging from the frequency of blasts from air horns and the constant clicking of cameras, loved ones who filled the stands and lined the track shared similar sentiments.

About 880 graduates earned degrees ranging from associate to master’s during a ceremony punctuated with school colors of maroon and white, and Gov. Bill Ritter as the keynote speaker.

Ritter, who began his speech amid a loud, angry outburst from one spectator, encouraged graduates to try to persevere in these rocky economic times and to find meaningful work, something to be passionate about.

“Ask yourself what you love to do. What the world needs is more people doing the things they love to do,” he said.

Ritter encouraged graduates to give of themselves, whether service to the community, public service or the military.

“Be part of something that is bigger than yourself,” he said.

Ritter advised graduates to have courage to do the right thing, using the example of Ralph Carr, governor of Colorado from 1939 to 1943. Carr, a Republican, defended the rights of Japanese-Americans when anti-Japanese sentiment spread with the onset of World War II. Japanese-American residents from the West Coast were imprisoned at Camp Amache near Granada. Carr’s political career took a nosedive after voicing his opinions, a move that likely cost him a U.S. Senate race in 1942.

“I, as governor have my own critics. Some of them have megaphones in the stands,” Ritter continued, drawing laughter from the crowd as he referred to the earlier outburst about him.

Family members of Diana Saenz, a magna cum laude graduate who earned a bachelor of science in nursing, were not about to let the day go on sans celebration. They produced a sign that read, “Nurses R Hot” in big, colorful bubble letters.

Saenz’ daughter, Dede Burns, traveled from Los Angeles, and her brother, Roger Johansen, traveled from St. Paul, Minn. The family planned to taste wines around Palisade after the event.

The person who drew the shortest straw would be the designated driver.

“She requested to go on the wine tour. She’s automatically not driving,” family members said of the graduate.


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