Graduations for the Pikes Peak region's four major institutions of higher education start Friday, with two University of Colorado at Colorado Springs commencement ceremonies at The Broadmoor World Arena.

Pikes Peak Community College's graduation will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, also at The Broadmoor World Arena.

Colorado College will graduate about 500 students at its May 21 ceremony on the campus, north of downtown Colorado Springs.

The U.S. Air Force Academy's ceremony, filled with pomp and circumstance and a performance by the Thunderbirds, will be May 23 at Falcon Stadium.

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

A record-setting 1,100 students of UCCS's 1,600 spring graduates are expected to walk in the 44th spring commencement program. The ceremony for degree earners from the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences will start at 10:30 a.m. at The Broadmoor World Arena, 3185 Venetucci Blvd.

Nayda Benitez, an undocumented immigrant who's receiving a sociology degree and a recipient of the UCCS Student Achievement Award, will give the keynote address.

She has attended UCCS as a Boettcher Scholar and has been living legally in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Her family came here from Mexico when she was 7.

Benitez has become an activist for undocumented students and aspires to go to law school.

"I tell students, and all who are marginalized, that it is difficult," she told a campus reporter. "It's not always about just pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. But regardless of injustice, being able to speak up and being able to speak one's thoughts is powerful.

"Many, though, have no protections, and I recognize there are repercussions. It's important to be strategic about what you say. It's about courage and what you can do with it. It's not that I wasn't afraid. I knew that all of this was much bigger than me."

Students receiving degrees from the UCCS Colleges of Business, of Education, of Engineering and Applied Science, from the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences, and from the School of Public Affairs will graduate at 2:30 p.m. Friday at The Broadmoor World Arena.

The keynote address will be given by Justin McConnell, a graduating business student who quit school twice for personal and financial reasons before finishing. He's also a UCCS Student Achievement Award recipient.

He's earning a bachelor of science in business with an emphasis in marketing and minor in resource management. He had to leave school following a car accident and to earn money to pay his tuition.

"Sometimes I couldn't see light at the end of the tunnel," he told a campus reporter. "I felt like I'd be taking classes forever."

But McConnell persisted, and at 26, says he's ready to take on the world.

Community trailblazer and campus benefactor Mary Osborne is this year's CU University Medal recipient, in recognition of her support of UCCS, with family lifetime contributions surpassing $10 million and many campus buildings named in honor of Mary and her husband, Ed.

Jay Cimino, president and chief executive officer for the Phil Long Family of Dealerships, will receive the CU Distinguished Service Award for his community contributions to military veterans and health and wellness initiatives.

Pikes Peak Community College

About 600 of the 3,900 students earning degrees are expected to attend commencement exercises at 10 a.m. Saturday at The Broadmoor World Arena, 3185 Venetucci Blvd.

More than half will receive an associate degree, and 42 percent will receive a career or technical certificate.

The youngest graduate is 16; the oldest is 72. Nine percent of the graduates are in high school.

About one-third are minorities, and one-third are connected to the military. More than half - 59 percent - are first-generation students, and 44 percent received financial assistance.

Keynote speaker Jenny Schell is a 1994 PPCC graduate and president and co-founder of the local award-winning marketing firm Design Rangers.

She grew up in a rural cabin with no electricity or running water and then traveling in a converted school bus around the country.

Schell paid for nearly her entire college education with federal Pell grants.

Her speech will convey the power of saying yes to accepting your roots, saying yes to finding mentors, saying yes to opportunities that scare you and saying yes to finding your dreams.

Colorado College

About 500 students will earn bachelor's degrees, and 12 will receive master's degrees in teaching during CC's commencement at 8:30 a.m. May 21 on the campus quad at Cache la Poudre and Tejon streets.

Tony-award winning producer Nancy Nagel Gibbs, who graduated from CC in 1971, will deliver this year's commencement address, "Advice From the Players."

Gibbs has been a producer, general manager and company manager for Broadway, Off-Broadway and international productions for more than 40 years.

Her production of "Peter and the Starcatcher" received nine Tony nominations and five Tony Awards, and "Fun Home" won a Tony Best Musical Award.

She also has a master's degree in theater from the University of Northern Colorado.

CC President Jill Tiefenthaler will award honorary degrees to Gibbs, David Buck, class of 1983, Frieda Ekotto, class of 1986, and Peggy Fleming Jenkins, class of 1970, for making outstanding contributions in their fields.

In the event of inclement weather, the ceremony will be moved to The Broadmoor World Arena and will begin at 9 a.m. The announcement will be made on the CC website or the college radio station, KRCC 91.5 FM.

U.S. Air Force Academy

The ceremony for the Air Force Academy's 60th graduating class of 2018 will start at 9:30 a.m. May 23 at Falcon Stadium at the Academy. A graduation ticket is required.

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis will give the commencement address. This will be his first visit to the Academy as defense secretary. The last defense secretary to deliver the address was Robert Gates in 2007.

The Air Force Thunderbirds are to do an aerial performance, ending about 1 p.m.

The Academy's north and south gates will open for attendees at 6 a.m., and the stadium gates will open at 7 a.m. The gates close at 9 a.m., and once graduation starts, guests cannot leave until the ceremonies end.Vehicles are subject to inspection. Drivers will need a current drivers' license, proof of vehicle insurance and registration while on base. All adults must have valid identification to access the Academy.

If severe weather occurs, the ceremony will move to Clune Arena in the Falcon Athletic Center.

To see the ceremony online, go to, or


Staff reporter, education and general news and features

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