Tom Hutton 262-3439

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO — More than 800 students will participate in CU-Colorado Springs 28th Commencement ceremonies at 10 a.m. Friday, May 24 at the World Arena.

Selected features about the members of the class of 2002 follow.


Julian Ceasar spent 22 years in the Army, fixing tanks and serving as a training drill sergeant.

He left the military as a sergeant first class with the goal of fulfilling a dream that began a decade earlier.

The sergeant wanted to become a nurse.

On Friday, Ceasar will graduate from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the Beth-El College of Nursing, joining a record-breaking number of students in Commencement Exercises scheduled for 10 a.m. at the World Arena.

“I thought a lot about it and dreamed of working in an emergency room type setting,” Ceasar, 43, and the college’s most outstanding nursing undergraduate student award winner, said. “I felt a calling and went with it, even though I had a lot of catching up to do.”

Ceasar’s CU-Colorado Springs commencement will be his first. Without fanfare, he completed his high school diploma while a teenager in the Army. He’s looking forward to the event and the opportunity to thank those who supported his efforts – family, instructors at Pikes Peak Community College where he took remedial courses and Beth-El faculty members.

“It’s been a long road and many times I questioned whether I could make it,” Ceasar said. “But with the support of a lot of people, I made it.”

Hip replacement a year ago, which required several weeks of bed rest and physical therapy, caused him to briefly question his second career choice. But through hard work and perseverance, Ceasar caught up with his classmates. His next move? He’ll begin work later this month as a psychiatric nurse in the adolescent ward at the Colorado State Hospital, Pueblo.

All in the family: fourth sibling graduates from CU-Colorado Springs

A mid-life awakening three and a half years ago, caused Ann Haehn to realize her life was about to undergo a seismic shift.

No, she wasn’t going to buy a red Porsche or take up chinchilla ranching in Peyton. The “awakening” for her meant going back to college-something she’d first attempted as a practical 18-year-old taking typing and shorthand classes at a local community college. Later, she took computer courses.

This time she wanted to write poetry, study Jane Austen and parse Shakespeare.

The mother of two and former computer analyst did that and more. On Friday, she will graduate with top honors from CU-Colorado Springs, earning a bachelor’s of arts degree in English.

Her poem “Transitions,” won first place in the poetry category in the university’s student arts publication, Riverrun. The poem was written when Haehn’s father was ill with cancer. Haehn, 47, was also named Outstanding Humanities Graduate from the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences.

“Getting my degree is my contribution to myself,” Haehn, who has been writing poetry since the seventh grade, said. “I have had the time of my life. I look at the world differently now. Some of the blinders have been lifted off. But nobody handed it to me, man. I had to work for it.”

Graduating from CU-Colorado Springs is a family tradition. Four of Haehn’s five siblings, including Susan Szpyrka, director, Public Safety, graduated from the university. Haehn’s daughter, Genevieve Johnson, graduated from CU-Colorado Springs last year.

Haehn is the last of her siblings to graduate, fulfilling her parents 50-year dream. Her mother, Barbara, a Colorado Springs native, wanted to attend college and become a teacher, but options for attending college locally were limited and expensive. Instead, she married and raised five children.

“My parents were very pro-education and dreamed that all their children would graduate from college,” Szpykra said. “Mom, in particular, always followed what was happening with the University of Colorado extension in Colorado Springs. She was very excited that a state supported four-year institution of higher education would be available to Springs residents. When Cragmor campus was established and began to expand, she immediately saw this as a viable higher education choice.”

Szpyrka was the first family member to graduate from CU-Colorado Springs.

Of her sister’s decision to return to school, Szpyrka said, “Ann is not your typical college student. She came here when she was at a crossroads in her life. UCCS has always been warm and welcoming to the atypical student.”

Home-schooled student finds place at CU-Colorado Springs

Bethany Hollister, Colorado Springs, came to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs unsure of what lay ahead.

After all, she had been home schooled from kindergarten through high school. While academically prepared, she was unsure about a campus with almost 7,000 students and wearing the label “fastest growing in Colorado.”

Most of her fellow students had attended area high schools that, while smaller than the university, were larger than the one-on-one instruction Hollister was used to. And while she was local, she found herself with students who hail from 55 Colorado counties, more than 22 states.

What a difference a few years make.

Hollister followed the advice received from friends. She got involved in the activities of the campus, specifically student government. There, she found her place.

In 2000, Hollister was elected student co-executive, the campus equivalent of a student body president. She had to campaign, talk to people she didn’t know and convince them she was the right person to allocate their student fees and represent their interests to the university administration.

She soon found out getting elected was the easy part.

Before long, the political science and philosophy major was expected to speak before the Colorado Board of Regents, to meet with the university’s chancellor and to represent student interests at everything from building dedications to new student welcomes.

The quiet teenager blossomed. She no longer bites her lip mid-speech. Bethany Hollister found her niche, and her voice.

Hollister will join more than 1,000 students at commencement exercises Friday at the World Arena. And while she may feel like whooping and hollering with her classmates, she’ll have to do that privately. As co-executive, she’ll sit on the platform alongside members of the faculty, Board of Regents and university administration. She’ll be expected to deliver a speech to a full-house crowd of her fellow students and their supporters.

She’s ready. And while it might be her biggest speech, it won’t be her last. The quiet, home-schooled high schooler will enroll at one of the nation’s most prestigious universities, the University of Chicago, where she will study law.

CU-Colorado Springs graduate earns degree posthumously

Walter Yahonne Garris II dreamed of earning a college degree.

Going to college was a personal and family goal. It was also an extension of the peer mentoring to which he was dedicated. He wanted to show others that a college education was possible regardless of race or background.

Complications from kidney disease cut Garris’ dream short. He died Jan. 25th, a few credit hours short of completing requirements for a bachelor’s degree in communication. He was 27.

Garris’ parents, Walter and Barbara Garris, Colorado Springs, will accept his degree posthumously during the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs’ annual commencement ceremonies at the World Arena.

“What he taught us was to appreciate every day and not take life for granted,” Marguerite Arai, instructor, Department of Communication, said. “If he had the energy and strength, he was doing good things for himself such as going to class or helping other people.”

Though his disease often limited him physically, Garris was known for his zeal in organizing food and cash-donation drives to help the community’s less fortunate. He also relished in helping to promote understanding between people of different races and backgrounds and in writing poetry.

Before his death, Garris wrote about the world through his eyes in a poem he called “Heaven’s Gates.”

Heaven’s Gates

The anger that you see in our eyes reflects the hate that we see in yours.

Setting obstacles in our paths, refusing to unlock sacred doors,

Leading all of us astray, lost and blind to our fate,

Hoping the road we traveled only leads to Heaven’s Gates.

We work the flesh off the bone, never stopping to bleed.

We put food on the table and buy things we need.

And the work that we do, it never serves to satisfy.

And the pain that we suffer keeps a tear in our eye.

Feeling caged and surrounded by all our mistakes,

And this world and its hatred providing no clear escape.

Seeking ways to stop the pain, like glass we break,

We fall on our knees hoping to reach Heaven’s Gates.

The things that we do, the things that we try

Refusing to see our mortality and we’re all afraid to die.

Living life on the edge, it’s the only excuse.

That’s how we deal with the daily abuse.

And at the end of the day we pray for a clean slate,

The last hour is near and it’s never too late,

Hoping God will forgive all our sins to this date.

If we all go together,

We and reach Heaven’s Gates.

CU-Colorado Springs, located on Austin Bluffs Parkway in northeast Colorado Springs is the fastest growing university in Colorado, offering 25 bachelor’s degrees, 17 master’s and two doctoral degrees. The university consists of the colleges of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Business, Engineering, Nursing, Education and the Graduate School of Public Affairs.