By Heather McGregor
Colorado Mountain College Rifle was the setting for two graduation ceremonies during the first week of May.
On Friday, May 3, the campus hosted its first commencement ceremony this spring, at which the college awarded bachelor’s and associate degrees, certificates and high school equivalency diplomas.
On Monday, May 6, Rifle’s concurrent enrollment graduation awarded 81 certificates to regional high school students who completed coursework in early childhood education, Spanish proficiency, basic culinary, basic welding, welding design and fabrication, pipe welding and nurse aide.
Giving the commencement address for the second graduation was Trenten Hagerty. A former concurrent enrollment student from Grand Valley High School in Parachute, Hagerty earned an associate degree in entrepreneurship and a bachelor’s in leadership and management in 2018 from CMC Rifle. Today, he is the ranch manager for John Lyons in Parachute.
Peg Portscheller, the college’s elected West Garfield County trustee, gave the commencement address on May 3.
Whether high school students earning free college credit and certificates through the concurrent enrollment program, traditional-age students earning associate or bachelor’s degrees, or “new traditional” students returning to college after years in the workplace, Rifle graduates persisted in reaching their goals.
This includes three students who pushed past obstacles and received college diplomas during the May 3 Colorado Mountain College graduation ceremony in Rifle.
Lisandro Chacon pictured a college education as an immense financial burden. Jeny Ponce, born in Mexico and raised in Parachute, thought college was out of reach without U.S. citizenship. And Leanne Richel was too busy raising four children to go to college.
“College was never something I visualized for myself,” said Chacon, 21, who was raised in Silt by a single mom.
During Chacon’s senior year at Coal Ridge High School, he learned about the President’s Scholarship. CMC offers this scholarship exclusively for graduating high school seniors living in the college’s 12,000-square-mile service area. It provides each qualifying student with $1,000 during their first full year attending one of CMC’s 11 locations and is renewable for a second year. A related scholarship, Go for 4, has just been launched for students working toward a bachelor’s degree.
Chacon’s employers at Target in Glenwood Springs encouraged him to go to college because it would open up more career opportunities.
Chacon found support through TRIO Student Support Services, a federally funded educational outreach program that is administered locally through CMC. The program helps first-generation students navigate college.
“I thought I’d just pass with an average grade, but they pushed me to try for something better,” he said of TRIO SSS staff and his peer mentors. “They helped me build the motivation for school.”
Chacon went on to become a peer mentor for other new students. At the May 3 graduation ceremony he received an Associate of Arts in business.
‘Easy to ask questions’
Jeny Ponce, 22, a 2015 graduate of Grand Valley High School, also received the President’s Scholarship. Four years later, she has earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration.
The scholarship made a big difference, but Ponce still worked full-time through her college years. She said the class environment at CMC Rifle led to her success.
“The small classroom sizes are more personal. It’s easy to ask questions,” she said. “And the more I got with the teachers, my grades improved a lot.”
Leanne Richel, 35, didn’t follow the traditional college path. She graduated from Glenwood Springs High School in 2002 with a baby, got married, had three more children and ran a small daycare business at home. A decade later, college finally became a possibility.
After four years of study, Richel is earning a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education.
She has balanced school, family life and, for the past year, a full-time teaching internship at Highland Elementary in Rifle.
“I can’t wait to just go teach and do what I love to do all the time,” Richel said. “I will finally be able to give back to my community as a certified teacher.”
Richel, Ponce and Chacon are all pointed toward the future with excitement and optimism.
Chacon will continue at CMC to earn a bachelor’s degree in business while working as a supervisor for up to 30 staff at Target. Ponce plans to move to Denver to seek a job in business, while pursuing U.S. citizenship. And Richel is already interviewing locally for teaching positions.
Their achievements, in turn, have a chance of inspiring others.
“You can have these obstacles and you can still be successful,” Richel said. “Don’t try to fit into someone else’s mold. You can make your own success.”