And just like that, with a toss of their caps and a loud cheer to fill Magness Arena, a host of undergraduate and graduate students embarked on a new life as University of Denver alumni.
At Commencement ceremonies on June 10 and 11, they collected their hard-earned degrees and gathered with friends and family to toast their accomplishments.
But first, they listened to words of wisdom from two alumni who, years ago, preceded them across the graduation stage.
Ed Dwight (MFA ’77), the Commencement speaker at the ceremony for graduate students, shared a message of inspiration.
“You can do anything your brain can conceive of,” he said. “Don’t let anything in the universe stop you. I know each one of you has your dreams and you have your responsibility to go out and honor those dreams, to seek those dreams and to fulfill those dreams.”
Dwight’s biography offered plenty of inspiration on its own. Among his many accomplishments, he is a renowned bronze sculptor, former U.S. Air Force test pilot and the country’s first African American astronaut candidate.
His time at DU grew out of a 1974 commission to create a bronze bust of George Brown, Colorado’s first Black lieutenant governor. The piece was destined for display in the state capitol. Being new to bronze sculpting, Dwight enrolled at DU to pursue a master of fine arts degree. While at DU, he was selected by the Colorado Centennial Commission to create a series of bronzes depicting the contribution of Blacks to the frontier West. Just a few years later, the National Park Service urged Dwight to create a bronze series portraying the history and historical roots of jazz. His sculpture of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass is on display at the Douglass Museum in Anacostia, Maryland.
Undergraduate students heard from David von Drehle (BA ’83), who was a Boettcher Scholar at DU and a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University, where he earned his master’s degree.
After his education, Von Drehle worked as a journalist with stops at The Washington Post, The Miami Herald and TIME. He’s also the author of several books. “Among the Lowest of the Dead” was called “perhaps the finest book ever written about capital punishment” by The Chicago Tribune. And “Triangle: The Fire That Changed America” was The New York Times’ Notable Book of the Year for 2003. His most recent work is “Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year.”
Von Drehle urged the new graduates to learn to savor the moment. “You’re encouraged to study the past and prepare for the future, and that’s great advice, except when it turns into stewing over the past and worrying about the future. There’s a troubling statistic I need to share. Depression and anxiety among young people have doubled in the United States, just during your time at DU. But what is depression but a dark shadow from the past? And what is anxiety but a fearful stance towards the future. The cure is to live here and now.”
Chancellor Jeremy Haefner, meanwhile, left the new graduates with these words: “Wherever you go from here, DU alumni, know that all of us are extremely proud of you. You have cultivated the knowledge you need to be prepared for all kinds of endeavors and make a real difference in the world.”