Upcoming CU Boulder graduates reflect on successes, growth

More than 8,500 degrees will be awarded at commencement on Thursday

BOULDER, CO – MAY 6:From left: University of Colorado Boulder graduates Jessica Yan, Brian Lambert and Claire Lamman pose for a portraits on campus on May 6, 2019. (Photo by Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
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The University of Colorado Boulder will award more than 8,600 degrees at its commencement ceremony on Thursday at Folsom Field, including 6,595 bachelor’s degrees, 1,421 master’s degrees, 176 law degrees and 427 doctoral degrees.

This year’s speaker is CU Boulder alumna and NBC News and MSNBC correspondent Savannah Sellers.

Sellers, 27, is one of CU Boulder’s youngest commencement speakers. She is a co-host of “Stay Tuned,” the Generation Z news brand for NBC, and “NBC News for Universal Kids.” She has covered issues ranging from gun violence to politics to pop culture, focusing on those that are most important to millennial and Gen Z audiences.

This is the second commencement that has been held on a Thursday. CU Boulder in 2018 moved its ceremony to avoid scheduling conflicts with other University of Colorado campuses. The change makes it easier for the CU system president and Board of Regents to attend the Boulder ceremony, as well as those on other campuses.

CU Boulder also will hold a Latinx commencement at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Koenig Alumni Center, with keynote speaker Violeta Chapin, a Colorado Law professor.

This also is the last CU Boulder commencement for outgoing President Bruce Benson, who is retiring in July. He will be replaced by President Mark Kennedy.

In advance of Thursday’s ceremony, three soon-to-be graduates shared how their time at CU Boulder shaped them and their plans for the future.

Advocating for yourself

Jessica Yan was inspired to work as an advocate in the social sector because of her family’s experiences.

“My parents are Chinese immigrants who struggled for a very long time before making it in this country,” said Yan, 22. “Seeing our struggles, and the inequity that my community and other communities face, made me a strong advocate for equity for all identities, regardless of who they are and where they come from.”

Yan majored in information analytics and leadership with a minor in biochemistry. She won a Fulbright Scholarship, which she declined to pursue a dream job at Redstone Strategy Group, a nonprofit and social sector consulting firm in San Francisco.

University of Colorado Boulder graduate Jessica Yan.

“I really believe in building strong, equitable social systems,” Yan said, and she credits the opportunities she received at CU Boulder, including scholarships that allowed her to attend, for her success so far.

Yan, who is from Westminster, said she has “a lot of Buff pride.” She appreciated the emphasis on social responsibility at the Leeds School of Business.

Yan thinks the perception that state schools aren’t as good as private universities is inaccurate. While she was one of the only state school students in many of her job interviews, she thinks it ultimately helped her.

“I feel like when you’re at a big school, you really have to advocate for yourself,” she said. “… In terms of CU specifically, I was part of a lot of programs that taught me a lot about authenticity, taught me how to truly be myself. I feel very grateful and blessed to have gone to CU, which I believe is an institution that truly believes in its students.”

While at CU Boulder, Yan was chair of the Distinguished Speakers Board for two years, through which she got to interview Anderson Cooper and bring Viola Davis to campus. She also was part of the Norlin Scholars and Leeds Scholars programs and a research assistant for the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical School.

“I want to say to all the kids that are in state who are really struggling with where they want to go, it’s completely OK to go somewhere like CU,” she said. “I got my dream job, I won a Fulbright … If I had gone anywhere else, I don’t know if any of those things would’ve happened.”

Well-rounded education

Brian Lambert credits his ability to pursue a unique double major — music composition and economics — with his time at CU Boulder.

University of Colorado Boulder graduate Brian Lambert.

“I’ve had many more opportunities to get a well-rounded education that I wouldn’t have otherwise had in a conservatory, for instance,” said Lambert, 22.

Lambert was heavily involved with the Pendulum New Music concert series, monthly concerts at which new music written by CU composers is performed, as well as the community at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church.

“All of the performers and collaborators that I’ve had while at CU have been really influential to me,” he said. “I look forward to being able to maintain the connections that I’ve built.”

Lambert hopes to go into arts administration after graduation. He plans to intern for the Tippet Rise Art Center in Fishtail, Mont., before going to graduate school for music composition.

“Having a background in economics helps me in terms of critical thinking skills and in terms of understanding the world of finance and leadership and management,” he said. “… And composition is a big part of understanding the way that the arts world works.”

Harvard-bound

If you had told Claire Lamman four years ago that she’d be where she is today, she would have been shocked.

Lamman, 22, studied astrophysics and physics while at CU Boulder, and following graduation will go on to get her Ph.D. in astrophysics from Harvard University.

“I have loved astronomy since I was in kindergarten,” she said.

But Lamman, who’s from Canon City, didn’t know if she was smart enough to study it.

University of Colorado Boulder graduate Claire Lamman.

“I thought of myself as more of a creative person,” she said. “One of the biggest things I learned was not to be intimidated by things that didn’t make any sense at first.”

Lamman discovered she had the necessary skills to study science, and be successful. After she gets her Ph.D., Lamman said she hopes to do research but also support outreach.

While she took physics in high school, she said she wasn’t really exposed to astronomy until CU Boulder. She credits her family for keeping her interest in space alive from a young age.

While at CU Boulder, Lamman worked at Fiske Planetarium to put on presentations for children, and she also was part of CU-STARS — Science, Technology and Astronomy Recruits — a group that travels to schools with fewer STEM resources to teach astronomy.

“Working on research, sometimes it’s easy to forget why I’m working on what I am. It’s easy to forget the big picture,” she said.

But when she teaches students at Fiske, Lamman said: “You see the look in their eyes, they get excited when they see something new. It’s a great reminder of why you’re doing what you’re doing.”

If you go

What: University of Colorado Spring Commencement

When: Gates open at 7 a.m. Thursday, guests should be seated by 8:15 a.m.

Where: Folsom Field, 2400 Colorado Ave., Boulder

More info: colorado.edu/commencement

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