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Pat Hamill Addresses Class of 2023, Kicks Off Post-Grad Lives With a Gift

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Nika Anschuetz





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On June 10, thousands gathered in Magness Arena to celebrate the undergraduate Class of 2023. The mass gathering may have seemed impossible just three years prior, as the then-first year students grappled with the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic.

Chancellor Jeremy Haefner applauded the class for its resilience in the face of uncertainty.

“It is such an honor to celebrate you! I know it took hard work and dedication to earn your degrees… but you persevered,” Haefner said. “We are incredibly proud of you.  I hope your DU experience was defined by growth. By curiosity, novelty, excitement, and connection. I hope, when you look back, you recall the thrill of discovering new knowledge—of encountering new ideas that further opened the world to you.”

After Haefner’s remarks, Pat Hamill, CEO of Oakwood Homes and Daniels College of Business alumnus, took the stage. Donned in commencement regalia, he framed his life in football terms, an amalgamation of quarters.

First quarter.

Hamill spoke about the importance of having a coach, paying tribute to his father—a ski coach, mentor and entrepreneur.

“Graduates, think about a mentor in your life, parents, teachers, coaches, friends. Think about what they did for you to support you to accomplish what you’ve accomplished so far,” Hamill said.

Hamill followed in his father’s footsteps and opened his first business while a freshman in high school, an antique business on his dad’s vacant car lot.

While it’s not his greatest or most lucrative accomplishment, it taught him a lot. After graduating from DU, Hamill went on to start a consulting company Pat Hamill & Associates, which helped companies install software systems.

In 1991, after learning from the companies he’d worked with, he wanted to be in the game. Through a relationship with a client, he formed Oakwood Homes, a premier home builder in Colorado. Through his work with Oakwood, he’s been able to give back. In 1996, he started a BuildStrong Foundation to redesign schools and create new opportunities for marginalized communities, which ultimately created pathways into the workforce.

In the second quarter of Hamill’s career, he sold his company to Clayton Homes, a Berkshire Hathaway Company. And though Hamill was no longer the head coach, he was still in the game, learning, growing and playing with players who were better than him.

But things don’t always go according to plan, Hamill says. In November 2022, Hamill was driving in the mountains when his car slid off the side of the road and rolled down a hill. Fortunately, someone nearby called 911. Hamill was flown to the hospital and resuscitated multiple times.

“I almost didn’t make it to my halftime,” he said. “It was a close call.”

But he did make it and, as he looked out at the graduates, he reassured them that the best is yet to come.

“Don’t worry grads. I will not take this speech into overtime,” he said. “Like you, I am thinking about what I want to do in my next quarter. One of my joys is to share the joy of giving.”

And with that, for the first play of Hamill’s third quarter, he announced that was moving the ball down the field for the Class of 2023 by giving each graduate $500. The graduates, visibly stunned by the announcement, stood to their feet with thunderous applause.

“Keep it if you really need it. Give it to someone who needs it if you don’t. Or combine it with your friends and do something together. That’s all,” Hamill said. “Keep it real and do something that matters for someone who needs it.”

One by one, the graduates accepted their diplomas alongside an envelope with the gift—a reminder to give back that they won’t forget.

“I was shocked,” said T’Phani Perley, who received a bachelor’s degree in criminology. “I really enjoyed the message that he was giving more, the pay it forward idea. I think I’m going to take half and go back to my high school and give it to one of my high school students at the summer program.”

“It was incredible,” said Sophia Zulich, who received a bachelor’s degree in real estate and the built environment, “The message that came with it was so important, so integral to give to those who are less fortunate. Ultimately, that’s the most we can do with anything.”

As the last of the graduates received their diplomas, the room roared with excitement. Haefner stepped to the podium for one last time, delivering the Class of 2023 one final reminder.

“I hope this final surprise—the incredible gift and charge from our speaker, Pat Hamill—is one more prompt to dig deep. Where can you make the biggest impact? How do your unique perspectives and values help you make the world a better place? You’re ready. You’re capable. You’re DU graduates,” Haefner said.