The 550 students in Colorado College's class of 2014 heard several speakers say Monday that their degrees mean they are fully prepared for the next step.

But they were challenged not to walk, but to jump, into their futures.

Because as Jane Lubchenco, who graduated from CC in 1969 with a biology degree, said, while there are many challenges ahead, there also are solutions to be discovered.

As the keynote speaker at the private liberal arts school's 132nd commencement ceremony on the campus' Armstrong Quad, Lubchenco gave an example from her life.

On the first day of her job as head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2009, she said she watched a wet Norway rat with a long tail dive into the toilet bowl in her office.

"My staff completely freaked out," said Lubchenco, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in December 2008 as the first woman to serve as Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere.

Fortunately, the marine biologist had been trained to swim with the sharks, so she set aside squeamishness and pulled on her scientist hat.

Lubchenco said she realized the office had been empty for the previous five months. While she didn't want to use that commode for a while, she did want to get rid of the predator. So she used the restroom down the hall and regularly flushed the unused bowl in her office to make the habitat unwelcome for furry visitors.

No one saw the rat again.

"My staff said nobody but a scientist would think about a problem as gross as that and come up with a reasonable solution," Lubchenco said.

This generation needs to be prepared for the sharks and the rats, said Lubchenco, who was NOAA's administrator 2009-2013 and is now a marine biology and zoology professor at Oregon State University.

"You millennials - because of your numbers and attitudes - are positioned to have immense influence on our country. You will elect the next six presidents of the United States. You will be the problem solvers and the leaders."

Lubchenco advised the new graduates to be willing to take risks, be ready to challenge conventional wisdom and give back to society through public service.

"You, too, have the smarts and newly honed skills, and now, it's your turn. It's time to unleash your passion and follow your hearts," she said.

When Jill Tiefenthaler, CC's president, took the stage, her first, "Are you ready?" drew a few "Yeahs."

When she repeated the question to the class of 2014 seated before her, a thunderous chorus responded, "Yeah!"

"I know you're ready to take on the world, and you should be," she said.

CC's liberal arts education and its unique block plan schedule, in which students take one class at a time for nearly four weeks, encourages students to become lifelong learners, imaginative individuals and inspired leaders, Tiefenthaler said.

"The liberal arts skills of your CC education have helped you develop resilience, focus, tenacity, grit and creativity," she said.

But it's hard to leave a place where students are "immersed in the life of the mind with no distraction," Tiefenthaler said.

Among the accomplishments of the class of 2014: rewriting the school's honor code, which the student body approved last week; creating a campus greenhouse with an aquaponic tank and space to grow food for the campus; working to help protect the Greater Canyonlands National Monument in Utah; and designing a scholarship as the class gift. The scholarship is in memory of classmate Reuben Mitrani, who died in 2012 during his junior year while studying abroad in Switzerland.

"You are dedicated to making a difference," Tiefenthaler said. "You are a talented and passionate bunch, and I'm confident you'll make us proud."


- LIST: Complete schedule of college and high school graduations in the Colorado Springs area.