DURANGO While crossing the stage at Fort Lewis Colleges commencement ceremony Saturday, 2011 graduate Jeff Hofferber turned to the crowd, pumped his fists in the air and let out a jubilant shout.
I was pretty excited, he said after the ceremony. I dont know, I guess I just had to share my emotion with everyone.
Hofferbers abundant joy certainly was shared by the other members of his class, not to mention family and friends in attendance, even if their outward expressions were more reserved.
In its 100th year, the college awarded bachelors degrees to 557 students. Sending the new graduates off into the world was commencement speaker Ann Brown, who has been involved with the college in one way or another for more than 50 years. Browns ties with Fort Lewis are closer than most, with her husband, two brothers, five children and numerous other family members having attended the school over the years.
Her speech recalled a bygone era when the institution, then a junior college, was just a fraction of its size today.
I was part of the freshman class on the new campus in Durango in 1956, Brown said in her speech. We were still Fort Lewis Agricultural and Mechanical College with agricultural classes including animal husbandry, earth science and agronomy held at the Old Fort (in Hesperus).
In those days, she said, the college consisted of just four buildings, including Berndt Hall, a gymnasium (now the aquatic center) and two mens dormitories. Most of the women, she said, lived in a large white house on East Third Avenue. Just riding the bus to school up the steep, unpaved East Eighth Avenue hill would often become an adventure.
The first curve was usually the slickest in the winter. ... The bus would have to stop and back up at the hairpin curve to get around, she said. Many times, the back of the bus hung over the edge of the hill. ... Needless to say, there were anxious moments for those on board, including the driver.
From these humble beginnings, Brown said, the college has grown into the best liberal-arts school in the Rocky Mountain West.
While Browns speech was largely congratulatory, she cautioned the class of 2011 not to rest on its laurels, that the graduates work in life was only just beginning.
You will get out of life what you put in it, she said. Best wishes and good luck.
After the ceremony, an exuberant Jordan Saylor celebrated with her family outside the Student Life Center. She graduated with double majors in accounting and international business.
Like Brown, Saylor also comes from a long line of Fort Lewis graduates. It took a few minutes to count just how many, with estimates ranging as high as 30. At final count, 15 members of her family have attended the school, including her three sisters and both of her parents.
Growing up, I was like, Mom, Im not going to Fort Lewis, theyre all hippies there, she said.
It was a visit to her sisters, then enrolled at the college, that changed her mind. While sitting in on classes with them, she became impressed with how the professors seemed to know everyone in the class.
Saylors mother, Denver resident Kathy Saylor, said she has enjoyed watching her daughters pursue their college careers. She was an accounting major and member of the Fort Lewis class of 1979.
Ive seen all the opportunities theyve had, how theyve matured as people and just the appreciation theyve gained for the environment and diversity, she said. Its been a great education. ... You cant really put a price on it.
For graduate Abby Jackson, the realization that her college career is over was just beginning to sink in Saturday afternoon.
Its weird. It didnt really hit me until yesterday when I was packing up my room that Im leaving, its all over, she said.
Jackson, whose 3.79 grade-point average earned her magna cum laude, is going to return home to Oklahoma and figure out what comes next. A marketing major, Jackson hopes to someday become a player in sports marketing.
I think my ideal job would be to do sports marketing for the Oklahoma City Thunder (basketball team), but theyre a pretty big organization, so maybe that will come later on, she said.
After coming down from the high of graduation, Hofferber discussed his plans for the future. Having majored in exercise science, he wants to jump right back into school, studying nutrition at Colorado State University. Masters degree in hand, he then hopes to return to Durango and pursue work as a clinical dietitian.
Hofferber had never been to Durango before enrolling at Fort Lewis, but over the course of his 4½-year tenure at the school, he fell in love with the community. Like so many Fort Lewis graduates before him, he hopes to someday make Durango his home.
I never had a thought of leaving the city of Durango, he said. Its just a perfect fit for me.