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First-year Dinners-Oct. 2015

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Rebecca Chopp

Speech  •

Note: This article was updated on Feb. 8, 2021.

I am so glad you are attending this special dinner tonight. The purpose of this dinner is to let you know how delighted I am you are here! I also want to tell you a bit of our history as a way of talking about our values. You are now a member of the University of Denver Global Community.

And now it is time for a test: Do you remember the pop quiz I gave you a month ago? Let’s do it again: What are our ABC’s? Ask questions, Balance, Connect.

Tonight I welcome you into the DU global community of alumni and friends—people who carry the DU badge to serve the public good, to thrive professionally, personally and in their communities. I want to introduce you to the core values of DU, the how and why of belonging to DU, not only now but throughout your life.

When I think of DU, I think of our alumni and friends, who carry out our core values:

  • Jessica Acosta, Principal and CEO, Environmental Consulting Services, in Denver
  • David Adkins, comedian known as Sinbad
  • Ibrahim A. Assaf, finance minister, Saudi Arabia
  • Peter Gay, American historian, educator and author
  • Jason Lundberg and Nick Phelps, co-founders of “From the Farmer,” a weekly farm-to-consumer delivery company in the Washington, DC, area
  • Federico Peña, former U.S. Secretary of Energy and Secretary of Transportation, and former Mayor of Denver—not an alum, but a great friend and now Trustee
  • Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State
  • Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor, The New York Times
  • John Swieringa, Senior VP and Chief Information Officer, Dish Network—one of the youngest CIOs in the Fortune 200
  • Carol Tomé, CEO, The Home Depot
  • Susan Waltz, professor of public policy, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and former chair, International Executive Committee, Amnesty International
  • Kristen Linn Kopp Weaver, Education Specialist for NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center

You will be these people in 10, 25, 35 years. You are joining a community and a history that will shape you—and, in turn, you will shape this community and our collective future.

The University started in downtown in 1864 and at the point was called the Colorado Seminary. But downtown then was quite different from LoDo today. The stadiums and arenas of the Rockies, Broncos and Avalanche were nowhere to be seen, and the magnificent performing arts center was probably a series of wooden structures about to burn! Chancellors, then called presidents, came and went nearly every year. DU closed for 13 years. When it opened again around 1880, downtown could no longer provide a good home. We needed a place that was healthy and a place that provided us room to expand.

Enter Rufus “Potato” Clark. Now Potato was quite a character. At 16, he became a sailor and went around the world on whalers and was shipwrecked in Australia. He finally got to Denver, and in 1869 he started growing potatoes on the Platte River. Potato lived a hard and sordid life; he was “a confirmed drunkard, a slave to drink so deep in the mire of sin and drink I never cherished a hope of getting out.” But he did, thanks to a religious conversion. Potato reinvented himself as a man of character who lived his life in service to others. Potato gave, along with a few others, 150 acres to the University of Denver.

The first DU value I want to share with you is making a difference in the world.

DU’s third chancellor, Henry Augustus Buchtel, will give us our second DU global network value. Let me tell you a bit about Chancellor and Governor Buchtel. He served as chancellor from 1905 to 1924. DU, quite truthfully, had a hard, hard time getting started even after Potato Clark and Humphrey Chamberlin got us going. Denver was a wild-west town with little stability: people were poor, and the economy was rocky; fire and floods could destroy everything quickly; and the silver mines went bust. When Buchtel arrived as chancellor, faculty were being paid in IOUs. There was talk of selling Old Main (now University Hall) to be a glue factory. Buchtel said quite simply, “I do not know how to give up.” And with grit he and others went to work. The University flourished.

There is a structure on campus named in Buchtel’s honor. In 1949, the Univeristy renamed Memorial Chapel as Buchtel Chapter. In 1983 the chapel burned, but the tower remained. We decided to keep the tower to remind us that we don’t give up—to remind us of our grit.

The second value is grit, resiliency, toughness.

Now one of the things I like about this campus (compared to others I have been on in the past) is that buildings and rooms are named for women with funds given by women. This is exceedingly rare in higher education. Meet Mary Reed, whose husband made a fortune in mining, ranching, banking and irrigation. When he died, Mary inherited what today would amount to about half a billion dollars. She became a member of the Board of Trustees and a major patron of the University. Her gifts helped to reinvent the campus: Mary Reed Building in 1932 replaced the Andrew S. Carnegie library. She also committed $100,000 to build another campus structure in 1928 to honor her late daughter, Margery Reed Mayo (DU class of 1919). Margery Reed Building was given a new life in 2014 to accommodate student needs for the Daniels College of Business. Not only did the University save a treasured historic structure, we also restored an 85-year-old mural that once outlined the stage of a theater in Margery Reed Hall.

Mary Reed stands for another DU value: the value of generosity, the value of helping others.

The next value is really at the heart of all our values: passion and purpose. Vance Kirkland is one of Colorado’s most important modernist painters, and his work is displayed in the most distinguished museums in the country. Kirkland founded our art department (several times, in fact), and he represents to me the power of passion that keeps one engaged in purposeful living throughout their lifetime. Kirkland never stopped exploring his passion: his art moves from realism and impressionism, to surrealism, to abstract expressionism, to amazing dot paintings in oil.

Kirkland represents the most important value: a life-long love of learning and growth—living with passion and purpose, whatever our engagement is. I hope you will become an expert in how your faculty members—even the ones who study a subject matter you do not care about—pursue their passion with purpose.

We have amazing faculty at DU. I want you to get to know how they turn passion into purpose time and time again. Please follow their passions:

  • Mohammad Mahoor, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and his team are conducting a pilot study exploring whether humanoid robots like NAO can improve social and communication skills in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • Anne DePrince, professor and chair of psychology and director of the Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning (CCESL)recently received the 2015 Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award from Campus Compact. She studies and publishes on trauma and violence, and her research has been recognized in many ways, including use by the Denver Police Academy in their victim-focused approach to training law enforcement officers.
  • Billy Stratton, assistant professor of English, is a prolific author. He specializes in American Indian literature and indigenous critical theory.
  • Sharon Alvarez is the Koch Chair of Entrepreneurship in the Daniels College of Business. She has won many grants and distinctions for her work in management and entrepreneurship, and she is associate editor of the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal.
  • Don Stedman, research professor, department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, developed a remote exhaust detector that shoots infrared and ultraviolet light across the road to sensors on the other side. The state of Colorado adopted his technology, and many residents never need to go into a state office for an emissions test because a camera snaps a photo of the license plate while the sensors measure exhaust.
  • Erica Chenoweth is professor and associate dean for research at the Korbel School of International Studies. An internationally recognized authority on political violence and its alternatives, Foreign Policy magazine ranked her among the Top 100 Global Thinkers in 2013 for her efforts to promote the empirical study of civil resistance.

Passion and purpose form our fourth value.

The final DU value is about responsibility and no one represents this better than Chancellor Emeritus Dan Ritchie. Dan Ritchie is one of the great leaders of the 21stcentury, and I can’t tell you how amazed I am I get to sit in the office he once held. Dan Ritchie was CEO of Columbia Savings and Loan, executive vice president of MCA Inc., executive vice president of RCA, an entrepreneur, and CEO of Westinghouse Broadcasting. After he retired from those amazing positions, Chancellor Emeritus Ritchie turned to cattle ranching in Kremling, Colorado, and avocado ranching in Santa Barbara. But shortly after he settled into ranching, the call of public service knocked on his door, and he was asked to become chancellor of DU. By all counts, Dan is considered an icon in this city and the Rocky Mountain West for his character and his commitment to serve the public good.

Dan, with help from many others, built the campus we now enjoy. As you go into Olin Hall, The Newman Center for the Performing Arts, Sturm Hall, the Ricketson Law building, The Chambers Building for the Advancement of Women; University Hall (totally renovated), Craig Hall, the Joy Burns Center, the Daniels College of Business; and one of my favorite spots on campus, The Ritchie Center. Over the next several years you will get to watch the Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science be built (funded in large part by the sale of his avocado ranch).

Dan Ritchie is a builder, but he cared most about building character and ethics in students. He dreamed of a campus where students learned about making the right decisions, were responsible for shaping their character, and understood fairness, respect, and right action. I assure you that what he still cares about, what I and others care about, are who you are as human beings.

The fifth value is responsibility.

But for as many examples of responsibility and right action as I can point to in our history, I want to acknowledge to that there are times when we have fallen short—and do fall short—of our ambitions. I want to acknowledge, that the land we are situated on today was once inhabited by the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. Our nation and our state have a deeply tragic history with respect to the people native to our land. A year ago, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of DU and we recognized, at the same time, the 150thanniversary of the massacre at Sand Creek. John Evans, our illustrious founder and also the founder of Northwestern University, was the Governor of the Territory of Colorado during the Sand Creek massacre. Evans was asked by President Jackson to resign in the wake of this tragic event. Being responsible means understanding the implications of our actions. Think and act responsibly: who will be impacted, who will be hurt, who will benefit from your actions? What you do makes a difference; the question is whether or not your impact will be positive.

Welcome again to DU. Ours is a global community of common values: Making a Difference, Grit, Generosity, Passion and Purpose, Responsibility.

At the end of the meal, we will take a very brief walk to the Gottesfeld Room in the Ritchie Center. There, we will have dessert and, in small groups, you can climb the stairs to the Carillon.

The Gottesfeld Room, honoring Marion Gottesfield, who was a trustee for 48 years, is the most unusual and to me most beautiful room on any university campus in the world.

We will be at the base of the Williams Tower, the tallest point of our campus. It is 215 feet tall and holds our carillon. I hope you will appreciate the gorgeous murals depicting the history of human communication, still evolving today. Then you can ascend the spiral stairs to the grand carillon, whose 65 bronze bells range in size from that of a modest flower pot to that of a Volkswagen Beetle, weighing six tons!