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DU Celebrates Class of 2021 in Summer Ceremony

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Nika Anschuetz





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On a sunny Saturday in August, around 1,000 people gathered in Magness Arena at the University of Denver to celebrate, in person, the Class of 2021.

As excitement mounted, Chancellor Jeremy Haefner stepped up to the podium, and with just a few words, ushered in thunderous applause.

“Here we are at last,” he paused. “Class of 2021, congratulations.”

Haefner took note of what made the ceremony so special and what set it apart from the spring ceremonies in June — a full house of graduates and their guests.

 “We’re coming to celebrate you all, but we’re coming in full force,” Haefner told the assembled crowd.

He contrasted the event with its June counterpart, noting that the earlier ceremonies were structured differently because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have an entire platform party with us. We have more graduates in this room today than we did in individual events and unlimited guests [in June]. You are especially special,” he said.

Degrees were awarded to 629 graduate students and 181 undergraduates, not all of whom were on hand for the festivities.  

Dr. Michael Salem, president and CEO of National Jewish Health, delivered the keynote speech and was recognized with an honorary Doctor of Public Service.

Salem’s address touched on triumphs during the pandemic and the importance of perseverance.

“We, as the collective world have been knocked back with a mighty blow by this coronavirus — so much suffering and death — and the ongoing effects on each of us and our families,” he said, adding that by adapting, persevering and working hard, the Class of 2021 emerged successful and able to savor “a most rewarding event like today’s graduation."

Salem spoke from firsthand experience. National Jewish Health­ partnered with DU to create a safe campus environment, bringing the medical expertise needed for testing, monitoring and quarantining. The organization helped DU create an environment where students could stay healthy and participate in campus life.

Along the way, Salem said, the DU-NJH collaboration highlighted a mission of service to the community.

“The complementary knowledge, skills and perspectives that our two institutions brought to the effort produced an exemplary program that was more powerful together,” Salem said. “We wish this kind of success for you as you go forward and encounter exciting opportunities along with daunting challenges.”

Haefner, meanwhile, expressed pride in the graduates’ ability to overcome.

Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma and tragedy. You mastered it and, at the same time, you’ve graduated. What an accomplishment! The best part is you will be able to face future adversity knowing you have the resiliency vaccine. You survived unprecedented challenges, and now you can face just about anything,” he said.

Leaving graduates with one last assignment, Haefner said: “Like so many alumni before you, you offer to this nation and the world your unique skills, talents and perspectives. Go out and continue to make our communities better, more equitable, more innovative, more inspiring."