When Colorado Mountain College leaders decided to cancel seven different spring commencement ceremonies this year, it was with a heavy heart.

“I always tell our students that this is my favorite time of the year,” said Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser, president and CEO of the college. “This is a time when everyone who has supported that student in reaching an important life goal — their families, their friends, the faculty who have taught them and counselors and other staff who have guided them on their journey — get to cheer and celebrate with them.”

This year was to be even more special, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. The college had lined up an impressive slate of accomplished Colorado women to speak, one per campus: a state Supreme Court justice, a lieutenant governor, the heads of the Colorado Department of Higher Education and the Department of Agriculture, founder and CEO of a well-known outdoor products company and directors of several large nonprofits. CMC views these speakers as trailblazers and pioneers in their respective fields.

The speeches were to be shared as part of a year-long celebration, through History Colorado and the Women’s Vote Centennial Commission, to honor the centennial of women’s suffrage and the doors of opportunity that opened to women following the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

But 2020 has turned out differently than anyone could have imagined. Every college and university in the state has been impacted by efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Classes have moved online; some students have moved back home while a handful of others stayed quarantined in their residential halls. And virtually every commencement ceremony in Colorado has been canceled outright or postponed.

Even with the disruptions in everyday life, the original keynote speakers slated to talk eagerly agreed to participate, by recording their speech for the virtual ceremony. The speakers for the Leadville campus is Jennifer McLaren, president and chief executive officer, Smartwool (Leadville and Salida campuses)

So, you might ask, how does a virtual ceremony work?

This month graduating students will receive a package in the mail, containing a mortarboard and tassel, a letter from the president, alumni swag and other surprises. Graduating students have been entering information and photos into an online form, which will populate the virtual commencement website (http://commencement2020.coloradomtn.edu) at noon on May 15. The site will feature recorded speeches from the college president and Dr. Angie Paccione, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

Students can then watch the program tailored for their home campus. They will hear their keynote speaker as well as a student speaker from their campus. They’ll hear their name and the degree or credential they’ve earned, and the same for their classmates, read by an emcee from the campus. A member of the elected CMC Board of Trustees will confer diplomas and certificates, and the student speaker will return to the screen to lead their classmates in the turning of the tassels.

The website, once live, will be open to the public and will be on view at least through the summer. Graduates are encouraged to pull together “watch parties” of friends and family members and to post photos to #cmcgrad2020 or https://colomtn.me/gradphotos.

Portions of the CMC commencement speeches will be incorporated into a video project for the “Bold Women. Change History.” initiative that is being organized by History Colorado and the governor’s Women’s Vote Centennial Commission.

“We have all found ourselves persevering through this unforgettable year,” said Hauser. “Here at CMC we have done all we can to ensure our students finish this academic year strong. And so many people —including these amazing guest commencement speakers — have worked hard so that we can celebrate our students’ achievements in a special and memorable way. We all wish the CMC class of 2020 the warmest congratulations, and the very best in their future endeavors.”

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