Prominent Colorado keynote speakers to honor 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage

When Colorado Mountain College leaders decided to cancel seven different spring commencement ceremonies this year, it was with a heavy heart.

“I always tell our students that this is my favorite time of the year,” said Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser, president and CEO of the college. “This is a time when everyone who has supported that student in reaching an important life goal – their families, their friends, the faculty who have taught them and counselors and other staff who have guided them on their journey – get to cheer and celebrate with them.”

This year was to be even more special, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. The college had lined up an impressive slate of accomplished Colorado women to speak, one per campus: a state Supreme Court justice, a lieutenant governor, the heads of the Colorado Department of Higher Education and the Department of Agriculture, founder and CEO of a well-known outdoor products company, and directors of several powerful nonprofits. The speakers are all trailblazers and true pioneers in their respective fields.

The speeches were to be shared as part of a year-long celebration, through History Colorado and the Women’s Vote Centennial Commission, to honor the centennial of women’s suffrage and the doors of opportunity that opened following the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

But 2020 has turned out differently than anyone could have imagined. Every college and university in the state has been impacted by efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Classes have moved online; some students have moved back home while a handful of others stayed quarantined in their residential halls. And virtually every commencement ceremony in Colorado has been canceled outright or postponed.

Female Colorado leaders to speak

Even with the disruptions in everyday life, the original keynote speakers slated to talk eagerly agreed to participate, by recording their speech for the virtual ceremony. The speakers and the students they will honor (by campus) are:

  • Christine Benero, president and chief executive officer, Mile High United Way (Roaring Fork Valley ceremony including Aspen, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Spring Valley campuses)
  • Lauren Y. Casteel, chief executive officer, The Women’s Foundation of Colorado (Vail Valley at Edwards campus)
  • Heather Dugan, head of law enforcement, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CMC’s Colorado Law Enforcement Training Academy)
  • Kate Greenberg, Colorado commissioner of agriculture (Steamboat Springs campus)
  • Monica Márquez, justice, Colorado Supreme Court (Rifle campus)
  • Jennifer McLaren, president and chief executive officer, Smartwool (Leadville and Salida campuses)
  • Angie Paccione, executive director, Colorado Department of Higher Education (message from the CDHE to all graduates)
  • Dianne Primavera, Colorado’s lieutenant governor (Summit County ceremony including Breckenridge and Dillon campuses).

So, how does a virtual ceremony work?

This month graduating students will receive a package in the mail, containing a mortarboard and tassel, a letter from the president, alumni swag and other surprises. Graduating students have been entering information and photos into an online form, which will populate the virtual commencement  website ( at noon on May 15, 2020. The site will feature recorded speeches from the college president and Dr. Angie Paccione, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

Students can then watch the program tailored for their home campus. They will hear their keynote speaker as well as a student speaker from their campus. They’ll hear their name and the degree or credential they’ve earned, and the same for their classmates, read by an emcee from the campus. A member of the elected CMC Board of Trustees will confer diplomas and certificates, and the student speaker will return to the screen to lead their classmates in the turning of the tassels.

The website, once live, will be open to the public and will be on view at least through the summer. Graduates are encouraged to pull together “watch parties” of friends and family members and to post photos to #cmcgrad2020 or

Portions of the CMC commencement speeches will be incorporated into a video project for the “Bold Women. Change History.” initiative that is being organized by History Colorado and the governor’s Women’s Vote Centennial Commission.

“We have all found ourselves persevering through this unforgettable year,” said Hauser. “Here at CMC we have done all we can to ensure our students finish this academic year strong. And so many people – including these amazing guest commencement speakers – have worked hard so that we can celebrate our students’ achievements in a special and memorable way. We all wish the CMC class of 2020 the warmest congratulations, and the very best in their future endeavors.”

Keynote Speaker Bios for Colorado Mountain College’s 2020 Virtual Commencement

Dr. Angie Paccione, executive director, Colorado Department of Higher Education

Congratulatory comments to all 2020 CMC commencement ceremonies

Dr. Angie Paccione

Dr. Angie Paccione, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, will provide a message from the CDHE to all 2020 Colorado Mountain College graduates during CMC’s virtual commencement ceremony.

Dr. Angie Paccione was appointed executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education by Gov. Jared Polis, assuming the role on Jan. 10, 2019, and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate Education Committee on Jan. 17, 2019.

Paccione has more than 20 years of experience in secondary and postsecondary education. She was a high school teacher, coach and administrator at Smoky Hill High School in the Cherry Creek School District before earning a Ph.D. in education and human resource studies from Colorado State University. There, she served on the CSU faculty for nine years as a teacher educator in the “Project Promise” program, a nationally recognized program of excellence in teacher preparation for mid-career professionals. She also conducted research in the teacher education field, examining educators’ life events that led them to become committed to issues of diversity and inclusion. Her findings informed a teacher preparation program and were later published in Teacher’s College Press, which has been cited in over 75 academic papers.

Paccione left higher education to pursue public service and was elected to two terms in the Colorado House of Representatives, rising to become House majority caucus chair. She served on the Education Committee during all four years in the legislature, helping guide the education environment for the state of Colorado. In 2006, she ran for U.S. Congress and came within 2.5% of unseating the incumbent.

From 2007 to her appointment as executive director, Paccione worked for Verus Global where she specialized in the areas of leadership development, diversity and inclusion, talent development and change management. She has worked with leaders from the shop floor to the C-suite in 40 countries and all 50 states. Paccione has also coauthored two books on leadership: “One Team: 10-minute Discussions that Activate Inspired Teamwork” and “Do Big Things: The Simple Steps Teams Can Take to Mobilize Hearts and Minds, and Make an Epic Impact.”

Growing up biracial in New York City, attending college in California and residing in Colorado, Paccione bridges many divides. She was raised to believe you can accomplish anything to which you set your mind, a philosophy that runs through her life’s accomplishments. Playing basketball at Stanford University and professionally in the 1980s, Paccione has developed a credo: that she’s as committed to your success as she is her own.

When she’s not working, Paccione can be found reading, traveling, enjoying theater and films or gardening. She counts her family and friends among her greatest blessings.

Christine Benero, president and chief executive officer, Mile High United Way

Keynote speaker for CMC’s Roaring Fork Valley ceremony (including Aspen, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Spring Valley campuses)

Christine Benero

Christine Benero, president and chief executive officer of Mile High United Way, is the keynote speaker at Colorado Mountain College’s virtual commencement ceremony for campuses in the Roaring Fork Valley, including Aspen, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Spring Valley campuses.

Christine Benero is president and chief executive officer of Mile High United Way, the first United Way in the country. For over 130 years, Mile High United Way has taken on critical human services issues through coordinated and direct service programming to advance the common good. Last year, Mile High United Way proudly invested over $30 million in the Denver metro area to strengthen under-resourced neighborhoods and build more resilient communities, so that all children, individuals and families have the opportunity to thrive. Benero is the first female CEO of Mile High United Way since its founder over a century ago.

Benero is the former chief executive officer of the American Red Cross Mile High Chapter, in Denver, Colorado. Prior to joining the American Red Cross, she was the director of the Office of Public Liaison for the Corporation for National and Community Service in Washington, D.C. She served in two presidential administrations working for both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Benero has served as vice president of the National Civic League, and as a community affairs corporate program officer for Target Stores in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Benero serves on the boards of HealthONE, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Denver Public Schools Foundation and Executives Partnering to Invest in Children. In 2017, she was appointed by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock to the Denver Education Compact Board. She was named the 9News Leader of the Year in 2007 and in 2009 was named by both the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post as one of “Nine to Watch in 2009.”

In 2010 she was named a “Woman of Distinction” by the Girl Scouts of Colorado and in 2011 received the “Las Madrinas” award from Centro San Juan Diego. In 2012, Benero was honored nationally by Girl Scouts of America as one of “One Hundred Distinguished Alumni” in honor of Girl Scouts 100th birthday. In 2013, she was named one of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Denver by the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce and presented with the Urban League’s “McKinley Harris Distinguished Warrior” award. In 2016 Benero was named one of the Denver Business Journal’s Outstanding Women in Business and in 2017 received the Colorado Governor’s Citizenship Medal for Public and Community Service by Gov. John Hickenlooper. The Colorado Governors’ Citizenship Medal is one of the highest honors bestowed upon citizens and organizations of Colorado for their meritorious contributions to the strength and vitality of the state. In 2019 she was named one of Colorado’s Most Admired CEOs by the Denver Business Journal. Most recently, she was honored with the ATHENA award by the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce for “Inspiring the next generation of women.”

Benero is a past president of the Association of Junior Leagues International, a past chairman of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, Coalition for America’s Children and the Kiwanis International’s Young Children: Priority One Advisory Board. She was a delegate both to the Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future in 1997 and to the NGO Forum at the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.

She holds a Bachelor of Science in special education from Boston University, a master’s in education from Harvard University, Graduate School of Education, and was selected as a 2007 Gates Fellow for the Senior Executive Program at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Lauren Y. Casteel, president and chief executive officer of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado

Keynote speaker for CMC’s Vail Valley at Edwards campus

Lauren Casteel

Lauren Y. Casteel, chief executive officer of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, is the keynote speaker at Colorado Mountain College’s virtual commencement ceremony for the Vail Valley at Edwards campus.

Upon joining The Women’s Foundation of Colorado in February 2015, Lauren Y. Casteel became the first person in Colorado to lead three separate foundations. She is known nationally for her leadership in and dedication to excellence and inclusivity in philanthropy.

Through these lenses, Casteel directs the foundation’s 2017-2021 strategic plan; oversees the finance, development, programs and communications teams; and is responsible for the foundation’s assets, which are valued at more than $22.5 million. Her trademark is an asset-based approach, in which all parties’ voices and strengths are listened to, respected and projected for outcomes that benefit women and families of every background and identity.

Prior to WFCO, Casteel served at The Denver Foundation for 16 years, most recently as vice president of philanthropic partnerships. As the first person to serve in the role, she launched the Inclusiveness Project, a program that increased the recruitment and retention of people of color at metro Denver nonprofits. The program changed the face of Colorado’s nonprofit community and garnered national attention when it won the Council on Foundations’ Critical Impact Award.

She also instituted The Denver Foundation’s Nonprofit Internship Program, intending to inspire college students to choose a career in the nonprofit sector. As the vice president of donor services at The Denver Foundation, Casteel helped establish the Reisher Family Scholarship and grow the number of donor-advised funds to 400.

From 1996 to 1998, she served as the executive director of The Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation and prior to this she spent six years at the Hunt Alternatives Fund as the executive director, then as the president.

Casteel serves on the board of the Association of Black Foundation Executives, as well as previously on the Council on Foundations’ Community Foundations Leadership Team and the national taskforce for Community Leadership of Community Foundations Leading Change.

Throughout her career, Casteel has earned numerous accolades, including: Anti-Defamation League Mountain States Region’s Civil Rights Award; the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce’s 25 Most Powerful Women Award; AAUW’s Trailblazer Award; the Girl Scouts’ Woman of Distinction Award; the Monte Pascoe Civic Leadership Award; and the Mountain Region Black Economic Summit’s Legacy Award. Additionally, she has been inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame.

Casteel is a frequent speaker, moderator and panelist.

Heather Dugan, head of law enforcement for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, is the keynote speaker at Colorado Mountain College’s virtual commencement ceremony for CMC’s Colorado Law Enforcement Training Academy.

Heather Dugan, assistant director for Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Keynote speaker for CMC’s Colorado Law Enforcement Training Academy (at Spring Valley, though students in this class hail from law enforcement agencies in Eagle County, Summit County, Steamboat Springs, Chaffee County and Pitkin County)

Heather Dugan is assistant director for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, overseeing the Field Services Branch of the agency. She leads commissioned and noncommissioned staff in law enforcement and public-safety-related operations including the recreational boating safety program, trails program, law enforcement records, and training and investigations associated with protecting Colorado’s wildlife and parks. She is the first woman to hold this position at Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Born in Colorado, she grew up as a free-range outdoor kid. Dugan earned her Bachelor of Science from Colorado State University in wildlife biology in 1992, and has worked for the agency for 28 years as a ranger, training officer, park manager, assistant region manager, region manager and assistant director. She and her husband Sean have 15-year-old twins, Tessa and Rafe, and an 11-year-old son, Jackson. McLaren and her family enjoy the diverse outdoor experiences Colorado has to offer, including hunting, fishing, hiking, backpacking, camping, mountain biking and skiing.

Kate Greenberg, commissioner, Colorado Department of Agriculture

Keynote speaker for CMC Steamboat Springs

Kate Greenberg was appointed to serve as Colorado’s first female commissioner of agriculture by Gov. Jared Polis in December 2018. As commissioner, Greenberg provides leadership and direction to the Colorado Department of Agriculture and its over 300 employees. Greenberg has worked in agriculture for more than 12 years, from farming to advocating for family farmers and ranchers through two federal farm bills.

Prior to her appointment, Greenberg worked for six years at the National Young Farmers Coalition, where she most recently served as the western program director. At NYFC she organized farmers and ranchers to advocate for state and federal policy reform. Her work focused on farmland affordability and equitable access, ag education, protecting water for agriculture, and expanding access to capital and credit for young and beginning producers.

Kate Greenberg

Kate Greenberg, Colorado commissioner of agriculture, is the keynote speaker at Colorado Mountain College’s virtual commencement ceremony for the Steamboat Springs campus.

Leading up to her tenure at NYFC, Greenberg farmed on various operations across the West, managed Western policy field programs through her alma mater, Whitman College, and worked in natural resource education and restoration from eastern Washington to Mexico’s Colorado River Delta. Greenberg also worked on the Colorado Water Plan and Colorado River Basin water policy, advocating for policies that keep water in agriculture.

Greenberg is the recipient of the Emerging Conservation Leader Award from Western Resource Advocates and an awardee of the 2019 Who’s Who in Agriculture recognition from Colorado Farm Bureau and the Denver Business Journal. She graduated from Water Education Colorado’s Water Leaders flagship course in 2018 and sits on the board of the Quivira Coalition, which brings ranchers, scientists and conservationists together to practice land stewardship at the radical center.

In 2016 she founded an all-female wilderness group called Wild Streak that leveraged a women’s backcountry canoe trip to raise money for young girls to get into wild places. Life has been big since that trip and the group hasn’t gotten back out (yet!), but they continue to elevate the importance of female leadership and self-reliance in wild places.

As commissioner, Greenberg serves on numerous boards and commissions, including the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the Colorado State Fair Board. While she currently spends much of her time on Colorado’s Front Range and traveling the state, she still calls Durango, Colorado, home.

Monica M. Márquez, justice, Colorado Supreme Court

Keynote speaker for CMC Rifle

Monica Marquez

Monica Márquez, Colorado Supreme Court justice, is the keynote speaker at Colorado Mountain College’s virtual commencement ceremony for CMC’s Rifle campus.

Monica M. Márquez was sworn in as justice of the Colorado Supreme Court on Dec. 10, 2010, the first Latina named to the state’s highest tribunal. She was appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter, Jr. Before joining the Supreme Court, Márquez served as deputy attorney general at the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, where she led the State Services section in representing several state executive branch agencies and Colorado’s statewide elected public officials. She also served as assistant solicitor general and as assistant attorney general in both the Public Officials Unit and the Criminal Appellate Section. Before joining the Attorney General’s Office, Márquez practiced general commercial litigation and employment law at Holme Roberts & Owen, LLP.

Márquez grew up in Grand Junction, Colorado. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in 1991, then served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps as a volunteer inner-city school teacher and community organizer in Camden, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before earning her law degree from Yale Law School in 1997. Upon graduation, she clerked for Judge Michael A. Ponsor of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts in Springfield, Massachusetts, and for Judge David M. Ebel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver.

Márquez is a member of the American Law Institute, the American Bar Association, the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations, the Colorado Women’s Bar Association and the Minoru Yasui Inn of Court. Before joining the Supreme Court, she served on the boards of the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association, the Colorado LGBT Bar Association, and the Latina Initiative, and as chair of the Denver mayor’s LGBT Commission.

Márquez serves as a liaison justice to the Office of Attorney Regulation and its related committees, and as chair of the Water Court Rules Committee. She is a co-leader of the Bench Dream Team, a group of judges dedicated to diversity and inclusion in Colorado’s judicial system. She also serves as chair of the Colorado Supreme Court’s Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. Márquez and several law clerks helped coach La Academia’s mock trial team from 2014 until 2018, when the alternative high school closed its doors. She regularly mentors students and aspiring young lawyers, including a first-generation Latina college student with Law School Yes We Can.

For her career of service, Márquez has been recognized with the Colorado LGBT Bar Association’s 2009 Outstanding LGBT Attorney Award, Davis Graham & Stubbs, LLP’s 2009 Richard Marden Davis Award, the Yale Latino Law Student Association’s 2011 Public Service Award, the Latinas First Foundation’s 2014 Trailblazer Award, the Hispanic National Bar Foundation’s 2017 Judicial Leadership Award, and the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Colorado’s 2019 Minoru Yasui Community Service Award.

When not working or volunteering, Márquez enjoys hiking with her spouse and partner of 20+ years, Sheila Barthel, and playing endless games of fetch with their boisterous yellow Lab, Tegan.

Jen McLaren, president, Smartwool

Jennifer McLaren

Jennifer McLaren, president and chief executive officer at Smartwool, is the keynote speaker at Colorado Mountain College’s virtual commencement ceremony for CMC’s Leadville and Salida campuses.

Keynote speaker for CMC’s Leadville and Salida campuses

Jen McLaren is the current president and general manager of Smartwool, located in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She is the first female to lead the world-renowned brand. McLaren is responsible for the oversight and strategic direction of the Smartwool global brand. She has been with Smartwool for more than eight years as a member of the senior leadership team and chief financial officer.

Prior to Smartwool, she served as North America chief financial officer, Timberland®. She joined the Timberland® brand in 2003 in the global financial planning and analysis organization.

McLaren holds a Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore School of Business and Economics. She began her career in public accounting at Arthur Andersen and then moved into various finance roles in startups and Softbank Capital.

McLaren is a dedicated outdoor enthusiast and believes that businesses have an obligation to make the world a better place. She is active in the Outdoor Industry Association, Camber Outdoors, The Nature Conservancy and SOS Outreach nonprofit organizations.

Dianne Primavera, Colorado lieutenant governor

Keynote speaker for CMC Breckenridge and Dillon (Summit County)

Dianne Primavera is a leading patient advocate who has spent three decades fighting for every Coloradan’s access to quality, affordable health care.

As a young mother in 1988, Primavera was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her doctor told her that she had, at most, five years to live. Since her first diagnosis, Primavera has fought cancer four times and survived. Her personal battle with cancer inspired her to make it her life’s work to ensure every Coloradan has access to the health care they need when they need it.

Dianne Primavera

Dianne Primavera, Colorado’s lieutenant governor, is the keynote speaker at Colorado Mountain College’s virtual commencement ceremony for graduates in Summit County, including Breckenridge and Dillon campuses.

In 1990, she joined the Rocky Mountain Regional Brain Injury Center, where her work focused on helping individuals dealing with serious injuries recover and resume dignified, fulfilling lives. Since then, she’s held many prominent positions throughout the public and nonprofit sectors devoted to furthering life-saving medical research and connecting Coloradans who experience illness with the treatment they need to recover.

In 2006, Primavera was elected to the first of four terms in the Colorado Legislature, representing Broomfield, Superior and parts of Erie. Throughout her service, she was highly regarded for her success working across the aisle to promote Colorado small businesses, lower prescription drug costs and expand access to affordable health care.

Most recently, Primavera served as the CEO of Susan G. Komen Colorado, one of the largest organizations in the country dedicated to breast cancer prevention, treatment, research and education.

Primavera is a lifelong Coloradan and a Broomfield resident. She has two adult daughters and a 1-year-old granddaughter, Kailani. Primavera is also an avid country dancer — taking after her dad, who was a dedicated ballroom dancer throughout his life, even on his 95th birthday.

About the Women’s Vote Centennial // Colorado 2020

In his final executive order, former governor John Hickenlooper established the Women’s Vote Centennial Commission (WVCC) and named History Colorado to lead the centennial commemoration of the adoption of the 19th Amendment, which will culminate on Women’s Equality Day, Aug. 26, 2020. The Women’s Vote Centennial // Colorado 2020 initiative embraces an anthem worthy of the largest voting-rights expansion in U.S. history: You shape history every time you vote. The Women’s Vote Centennial gives Coloradans the opportunity to learn about the journey and struggle to achieve voting rights among women. It exudes the powerful truth inherent in this history: that your vote does make a difference and that every vote counts. | #HerColorado