By Carrie Click
RIFLE – Bill Brady will be the first to tell you that as a 19-year-old in 1979, he was making a lot of bad choices.
“I was a stupid kid,” said the former military brat, who graduated from Würzburg American High School in Germany before moving back to the United States.
Over the years, Brady’s bad choices magnified, landing him in prison in Canon City for cocaine possession and credit card fraud. After repeated incidents of breaking rules, by the mid-1990s he was a convicted felon.
Somewhere in Brady’s brain and heart, though, he knew he could do better. So when he heard he could earn a college degree while in prison through Colorado Mountain College and the Rifle Correctional Center, he applied for the program.
In 1996, early one morning in Canon City – 3 a.m. to be exact – Brady was told to wake up and pack it up. He’d been accepted into the collegiate program and was being transferred to Rifle – and to CMC. There, a second chance was waiting.
A group of inmates was shuttled to and from the correctional center about 15 miles north of Rifle to attend classes at Colorado Mountain College, then located downtown on Railroad Avenue.
“CMC opened my life to better career choices,” he said. “Education changed my life and my understanding of commitment.”
Mike Samson, who is now a Garfield County commissioner, was teaching speech and communication at CMC at that time. A seasoned educator, he taught for 25 years at Rifle High School as well.
“He was my favorite teacher,” said Brady. “He helped me learn communication skills and how to study, which then helped me learn how to work hard.”
Brady earned top grades on his way to an Associate of Arts degree, which he received in 1998. He graduated with a 3.75 GPA, but didn’t attend his graduation ceremony since he was still incarcerated. He was released from prison later that year.
With his associate degree in hand, he moved back to the Colorado Springs area and began working in construction, first as a laborer. Eventually, he became an acting assistant superintendent on a variety of jobs.
For Brady, 2018 is a year of milestones. He’s put his construction career on hold to move in with and care for his 85-year-old father. It’s also the 20th anniversary of his graduation from Colorado Mountain College, and his 40th high school reunion, which was held in Las Vegas in June.
Before traveling through Rifle on the way to his reunion, he contacted Carole Boughton, CMC Rifle’s campus dean and college vice president. Brady told her that Colorado Mountain College, and specifically Samson, had dramatically changed his life.
Would it be possible, he asked Boughton, to bring his diploma to Rifle to have his picture taken in a cap and gown in front of CMC? Since he wasn’t able to go to his college graduation, he’d especially like to show a photo like that to his elderly father.
Take the opportunity
Boughton took Brady’s idea, and the Rifle campus team ran with it. Unbeknownst to the CMC alumnus, Boughton plus staff members Kim Arnold and Jenny Boone planned a one-man, 15-minute graduation ceremony just for Brady. The campus dean made sure Clough Auditorium had a recording of “Pomp and Circumstance” for his graduation walk. She contacted Samson. Arnold located a gold sash, signifying Brady’s inclusion into the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. Boughton arranged for a few faculty and staff to attend, and she prepared remarks.
On June 20, Brady showed up at the campus, expecting to borrow a cap and gown to take a quick picture. What he didn’t expect was graduation marching music blasting from the auditorium, a half-dozen CMC faculty and administrators standing on stage in graduation regalia, and his favorite teacher, Mike Samson, there to congratulate him.
“You took that knowledge and you took that wisdom because you had the opportunity to become a wiser person, a better person,” Samson said to Brady. “Thank you. Encourage others to do the same.”
“This is very special,” Brady said quietly, tears welling in his eyes. “I had no idea you were going to make such a big deal out of this. I never forgot this place. And I’ll never, ever forget this.”