“Stand in truth and defend our democracy, we have never needed you more,” Cheney tells graduating Class of 2023

“It’s a fundamental fact. We cannot remain a free nation if we abandon the truth. As you go out to change the world, resolve to stand in truth,” former U.S. Representative Liz Cheney ’88 told a packed Ed Robson Arena filled with 512 graduates and several thousand family members and friends. The 149th Colorado College Commencement took place on a warm, sunny Sunday morning, May 28, 2023.

The Colorado College alumna and Vice Chair of the Select Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection recounted her experience being “asked to lie” about the 2020 election being “stolen,” and that the attack on January 6, 2021 “wasn’t a big deal.”

“I had to choose between lying and losing my position in House leadership,” Cheney said. “As I spoke to my colleagues on my last morning as chair of the Republican conference, I told them that if they wanted a leader who would lie, they should choose someone else.”

The arena erupted into applause at that moment. It was the courageous and bold action Cheney referenced that resonated with CC leadership and prompted them to invite her to speak at the liberal arts college’s Commencement ceremony.

“During your time here,” President L. Song Richardson shared in her address to graduates, “you learned to value the perspectives and experiences of people different than you, and in your collaborative class projects, you learned that great ideas come when we don’t all think the same way.”

In recognition of her “consistent and courageous voice in defense of democracy,” Cheney was awarded the Profile in Courage Award by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation in 2022. 

Despite this, many graduates turned their chairs around in protest of Cheney as Commencement speaker, however the ceremony was not disrupted. And the protest was not unexpected by college leadership, which supports the right of every student to protest and encourages peaceful participation in social activism and demonstration.

“The world needs your unique ways thinking, your courage, and your curiosity now more than ever,” says Richardson.

Cheney encouraged the graduates to “do good and be kind” as they head out into the world.  Also, to be prepared for obstacles they don’t expect. She told them to do what is right even when it’s hard, when they’re alone, and when they’re afraid. “Especially when you’re afraid. That’s courage,” Cheney added.

With perseverance like none other, the Class of 2023 overcame the odds of a global pandemic that shaped their entire college experience, from start to finish, with each graduate having their own story to tell of how different their undergraduate college years were compared to most. From being dispersed and learning through Zoom classes, to enduring health scares and rallying for mental health services. If anyone knows courage, it’s them.

Class of 2023 Quote: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” - Audre Lorde

Cheney urged the graduates to get out and vote and be engaged, active, and thoughtful citizens. “This means listening and learning, including—especially—from those with whom we disagree.” 

Colorado College conferred degrees upon 468 Bachelor of Arts candidates and seven Master of Arts in Teaching graduates, who marched along with 37 students who graduated last August and December.

Many students received awards of distinction, including the Just World Award recipient Chloe Brooks-Kistler ’23, who received the Adrienne Lanier Seward Bold and Courageous Actions Award, and Delaney Grant Kenyon ’23, who received the Margaret Liu Health Justice Award. 

In addition, four people received Honorary Degrees, including Mike Edmonds, retiring senior vice president, who joined Colorado College in 1991. As acting co-president from 2020 to 2021, he led the campus community through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and became the first Black president in the college’s 147-year history.

Robert G. Moore, retiring senior vice president for Finance and Administration, chief financial officer, and chief operating officer, joined the college in 2009. His work improved CC’s physical campus, the compensation and benefits of employees, college finances, financial aid, and the student experience. Moore served as acting co-president of Colorado College from 2020 to 2021, navigating the difficulties of COVID-19.

Hilaree Nelson, Colorado College Class of 1995, North Face team captain, National Geographic Adventurer, first woman to climb Everest and Lhotse (both over 8,000 meters) in a single 24-hour push, and first to ski from the summit of Lhotse. Nelson was an all-time great in ski mountaineering, mentor to other women mountaineers, and an advocate for climate-change awareness. She died in September 2022 in a ski fall caused by an avalanche near the summit of Manaslu in Nepal.

Robin Wilson, professor emeritus, the Open University (UK), worldrenowned mathematician, historian of mathematics, and from 1982 to 2016, a frequent visiting professor at CC. He authored or coauthored 50 books and 80+ articles on topics ranging from abstract algebra and graph theory to popularizations of mathematical ideas.

In closing, Cheney encouraged the graduates to achieve, invent, and create.

“Class of 2023, go forth. Stand in truth. Do good and be kind. Always do the next right thing. Be heroes. Be incandescent with courage. Defend our democracy. Love and serve our country. She – and we – have never needed you more,” says Cheney.

See the photo gallery, video of the full event, and more from Commencement 2023.

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