'I can't believe I made it': Students celebrate at CU Boulder's graduation ceremony

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May 9—Damien Bargas didn't always think he was capable of graduating college.

"I never thought I'd be able to do this ... to be able to go through this is nothing short of a miracle," Bargas said.

Bargas is one of more than 9,400 students who earned a degree from the University of Colorado Boulder during its graduation ceremony on Thursday at Folsom Field. Bargas, a first-generation college student from Thornton, said earning his degree in neuroscience wasn't easy.

"In a degree where it's very difficult in some classes you always feel like you don't, I guess in a sense, belong," Bargas said. "Like you're not smart enough and all this, so just believing in yourself is always a struggle."

Now, he's excited and nervous for the future.

Students ages 20 to 63 were honored at CU Boulder's graduation ceremony on Thursday. Despite the clouds hovering above the stadium, attendees made it through without any rainfall, enduring only slightly chilly temperatures and cloudy skies. The university awarded 6,882 bachelor's degrees, 1,789 master's degrees, 141 MBAs, 194 law degrees and 464 doctoral degrees.

"Honestly, I can't believe I made it. I'm so excited, I'm so proud of myself and everyone else who's made it this far," graduate Isabella Caccia said. "College is not easy, so it's a big accomplishment that should be celebrated."

Caccia is graduating with a degree in integrative physiology and plans to take the MCAT exam to attend medical school and ultimately become a doctor.

"I think being in college has made me realize that you have to be the one to stand up for yourself because you can't trust other people to stand up for you," Caccia said. "You've got to be your own advocate, you've got to be your own support system because when those things fail in other people you don't want to drown. You've got to make sure you support yourself."

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, delivered the commencement address. Wozniak attended CU Boulder from 1968 to 1969 before returning to California, where he co-founded Apple Computer Inc. with Steve Jobs in 1976. He holds an honorary doctorate in engineering, conferred in 1989, from CU Boulder.

"You've all been educated to be leaders, not followers," Wozniak said. "Don't do what everyone else tells you and don't do what everyone else does. Think for yourself and decide what's right and wrong."

He advised the class of 2024 to "stay honest, keep smiling and pay your own successes forward by helping others."

"You'll forget a lot of your class material over time but one thing you'll remember is the people you had experiences with and your time here at CU and today," Wozniak said.

Graduate Davis Lapkin is happy to be done. He earned a degree in computer science and said the classes were often challenging and stressful.

"It's definitely pretty relieving being able to say that I'm finished and I'm done now," Lapkin said. "It's definitely happy being able to say that."

Lapkin will return to Florida after graduation to take time off before finding a job. He said his time at CU Boulder helped him be more outgoing.

"I was kind of shy and introverted when I first came into school and it's definitely brought me out of my shell a lot, and the bigger school and bigger city helped with that," Lapkin said.

Thursday's ceremony was Chancellor Phil DiStefano's last as chancellor. He said it's particularly special for this group of graduates, many of whom arrived at CU Boulder during the pandemic in 2020.

"It's extra special for our students, for their parents, their grandparents and it's special for us to be able to celebrate with them since they didn't have a high school graduation," DiStefano said. "These are going to be wonderful graduates, wonderful alumni for the university and I look forward to what they do."