September 2, 2021 | NEWS | By Susie Dummit | Photo courtesy of Colorado College

After 18 months of anticipating the return to the classroom, Colorado College kicked off its first semester fully in-person since the start of the pandemic with its 148th Opening Convocation. The ceremony took place at 9 a.m. on Aug. 30, right before the start of classes.

Despite the fact that campus life has finally resumed, many things have changed since our last in-person convocation. Instead of the usual crowd at Shove Chapel, students lined Tava Quad in plastic chairs and on the grass behind them. A portion of the audience donned face masks. The sun beat down throughout the ceremony, as some ditched their seats for shade under nearby trees. With all these new changes came a new president, ready to share her high hopes for these troubling times.

“At Colorado College, we are tough, we are resilient, and we are empathetic,” President L. Song Richardson said, after acknowledging the Ute people whose[1] [JK(2]  ancestral lands the ceremony took place on. “Despite the uncertainties that still exist, we also know that no matter what, we will be able to get through anything, so long as we do it together.”

Richardson is the 14th president of CC, succeeding Co-Presidents Mike Edmonds and Robert G. Moore, who took on the role during the search for former President Jill Tiefenthaler’s replacement. A lawyer, scholar, and educator, Richardson left her position as the dean and chancellor’s professor of law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law to join the CC community. 

Richardson’s speech was followed by President of the CC Student Government Association (CCSGA) Deksyos Damtew’22. Damtew shared his excitement for the CC community to return to campus, and encouraged listeners to get a cup of coffee with a professor, staff member or friend. While tying coffee back to his Ethiopian roots, Damtew spoke about the CC community’s need to dismantle the anti-Black systems of power which are rooted in predominantly white institutions such as CC.

“This year, I challenge you to listen without the intent to respond, to learn from each other and most importantly, understand the work that we are doing to become an anti-racist institution requires a commitment to not only look toward how others uphold systems of power, but to look within ourselves to see how we uphold racism too, to hold each other accountable for the ways we treat each other, by addressing racist, homophobic, sexist or ableist comments,” Damtew said. “We can be in step with improving our community by acknowledging our errors with humility over defiance. We become the change.”

Next came the conferring of honorary degrees to alumni Dr. Nancy Hernández ’96, Kauai Hart Hemmings ’98 and keynote speaker Jeremy Jepson ’99. This practice began in 1986 to honor alumni for their achievements and provide examples of what graduates can aspire to achieve. 

Hernández was presented with Doctorate of Humane Letters Honoris Causa, for her nonprofit work confronting discriminatory practices and her devotion to helping Hispanic students in the Southwest region get prepared for and enter college. 

Hemmings was presented with Doctorate of Humane Letters Honoris Causa, for her work as a New York Times-bestselling author. Finally, Jepson was presented with Doctorate of Humane Letters Honoris Causa, for his work as director of public affairs and stakeholder insights at Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products.

Jepson then addressed the audience, touching upon the growth he experienced during his time at CC and his experience in the Peace Corps, and closed the event with a message of the importance of living with intention, which he described as allowing one “to move towards what you want, instead of moving away from what you don’t want.”

“Be prepared to walk through doors when they open for you or when you open them for yourself,” Jepson said as he closed his speech. “That’s being intentional and purposeful in the way you live your life.”

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