DU Commencement ceremonies offer students and guests advice and lessons from many distinguished guests with a variety of experiences.
Spring 2016 Commencement Speakers
Sturm College of Law Ceremony
Rebecca Love Kourlis, executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System
Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis has dedicated her career, both in and out of the courts, to ensuring that the American legal system provides justice for all. She served Colorado’s judiciary for nearly two decades, first as a trial court judge and then as a justice of the Colorado Supreme Court.
During her time on the bench, Kourlis witnessed a system increasingly under attack from outside forces—one that was often failing to deliver the justice she swore to uphold. So, in January 2006, she resigned from the Colorado Supreme Court and established the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS).
Kourlis began her legal career with the law firm of Davis Graham & Stubbs, and then started a small practice in rural northwest Colorado where she worked in natural resources, water, public lands, oil and gas, and mineral law.
In 1987, she was appointed as a trial court judge with a general jurisdiction docket. She served as Water Judge and later as Chief Judge of the district. In 1994, she returned to Denver and worked as an arbitrator and mediator for the Judicial Arbiter Group. She was appointed to the Colorado Supreme Court in 1995.
Susana Cordova, acting superindendent of Denver Public Schools
Susana Cordova is a lifelong Denver resident who has worked in DPS schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels. She has held several positions in central administration and was most recently executive director of teaching and learning before moving into the role of chief academic officer.
Cordova began her teaching career as a bilingual teacher at Horace Mann Middle School, teaching English and Spanish in a dual-language program. From there, she moved to West High School, where she was an ESL and English teacher and department chair. She became a student advisor supervising discipline when she was recruited for the DPS Leadership Academy. She served as assistant principal at Bryant Webster Elementary School for one year before becoming principal of Remington Elementary School, a school with a 95 percent free- and reduced-price-lunch population.
In 2002, Cordova was recruited to the central office as director of literacy. Under her supervision, DPS implemented a districtwide literacy program at all grades.
Madeleine Korbel Albright, 64th secretary of state of the United States
Madeleine Albright was nominated as the first female secretary of state by President Bill Clinton on Dec. 5, 1996, confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Jan. 22, 1997, and sworn in the next day. She served in the position for four years.
As secretary of state, Albright promoted the expansion of NATO eastward into the former Soviet bloc nations; successfully pressed for military intervention under NATO auspices during the 1999 humanitarian crisis in Kosovo; favored the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on Global Climate Change; and furthered the normalization of relations with Vietnam.
Albright's other federal government positions included a White House staff member under Jimmy Carter, a National Security Council member, and ambassador to the United Nations from 1993 to 1996. She also served as Research Professor of International Affairs at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and Director of its Women in Foreign Service Program
Albright is the daughter of Josef Korbel, the former DU international studies professor for whom the international studies school was renamed in 2008.
Past Commencement Speakers
Michael Bennet, United States senator for Colorado
Michael F. Bennet was elected United States Senator for Colorado in November 2010. A newcomer to politics with experience in business and public service, he is recognized as a pragmatic, innovative and independent thinker driven by a deep-seated obligation to create more opportunity for the next generation.
Before his appointment to the Senate in 2009 and subsequent election to a full 6-year term in 2010, Michael served as superintendent of Denver Public Schools, where he led a reform effort that improved student achievement, helped turn around failing schools and brought a halt to a seemingly endless cycle of annual budget cuts.
Prior to his time at the Denver Public Schools, Michael served as chief of staff to then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. In that role, he implemented reforms that made city government more responsive to the needs and concerns of the greater Denver community. Bennet's experience saving jobs and turning around failing companies has also served him well in the U.S. Senate. As managing director at the Anschutz Investment Company, Michael managed the successful restructuring of more than $3 billion in corporate debt.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon—a strong advocate for sustainable development, gender equality, global peacekeeping and improving UN operations—delivered the main address at DU's graduate Commencement ceremony on Friday, June 7, 2013.
Since taking office on Jan. 1, 2007, Ban has used his experience growing up in the war-torn Republic of Korea (and the UN's intervention in helping it rebuild) as motivation to mobilize world leaders around such challenges as climate change, economic upheaval and poverty.
He has also held various positions throughout South Korea, including minister of foreign affairs and trade; foreign policy adviser to the president; chief national security adviser to the president; deputy minuter for policy planning; and director-general of American affairs.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock sent off DU's undergraduate students with his official Commencement address on June 8, 2013.
Hancock took office in July 2011, and has since championed efforts to transform Denver into a "smart city" focused on innovation and growth in the job and security sectors, as well as bolstering education. Among his efforts to achieve this: He's opened the door to new global, economic connections to Asia, Europe and Central America by introducing international flights to Tokyo, Iceland and Mexico City; moved well-trained police officers from desks to the streets; and increased the response rate for new requests for assistance benefits from 54 percent to 95 percent.
Roger Birnbaum, DU alumnus, and CEO and co-chairman, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. (MGM Studios)
Students who received their bachelor's degrees in spring 2012 heard from featured Commencement speaker Roger Birnbaum, a DU alumnus and CEO of Metro-Goldwyn Mayer Inc. (aka, MGM Studios).
Birnbaum, who attended DU from 1968 to 1971, started his career in the music industry as vice president of A&M Records and Arista Records before moving into film production at Twentieth Century Fox.
While at Twentieth Century Fox, he oversaw such blockbusters as Home Alone, Last of the Mohicans and Edward Scissorhands.
After a successful run with Caravan Pictures (his credits included Rush Hour, Six Days/Seven Nights and Angels in the Outfield) he co-founded Spyglass Entertainment, a production, finance and distribution company.
Lewis Sharp, former director of the Denver Art Museum, curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Sharp delivered a short speech to DU's 2010 spring graduate class on June 4, 2010. He encouraged graduates to pursue work within the non-profit sector, where he said they?d be intellectually challenged and meet amazing people.
"In the non-profit sector, you have an opportunity to work with some of the most committed and engaging individuals in a community."
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.)
DeGette, who represents Colorado's First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, said she has great faith that DU's 2009 undergraduate class will face the global challenges ahead with the leadership skills they've developed here.
"This is a campus that produces leaders in every field. DU graduates turn knowledge into action; they find a way to give back to Colorado and to the world. ... But now we need your leadership as never before. We are at a turning point in history. We are at a time of renewal and a time of change. The world is rapidly mutating around us, a whirlwind of motion with wild fluctuations in global stock markets and a crisis of confidence in our minds.
"The events of the last few years force us to refocus our thoughts, to reprioritize, to rise to the challenges of change. We are not studying history; we are living it, and our actions now will determine our future."