Thank you. I would like to thank our partners in this great community celebration, the City of Boulder and the Boulder Valley School District.
It's a pleasure to see one of the newest members of our community, the new president of Naropa University, Dr. Stuart Lord, our keynote speaker today.
As we honor Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy, and as we examine the work still before us, the people of Haiti are not far from our hearts.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on this important day that marks everything that we aspire to stand for as a nation and as a community.
It was Martin Luther King, imploring the oppressed to stand tall, who said, "A man can't ride your back unless it's bent."
This quote has always rung home for me.
Even though I have been a long-time member of the Boulder community, I grew up in Steubenville, Ohio. My hometown sits on the banks of the Ohio River, and like most river towns, it is diversity personified. It is located at a literal crossroads – a transportation hub with coalfields, steel mills, the river and highways all in close proximity, and agriculture not far away.
My parents were first-generation Italian-Americans; my grandparents were Italian immigrants. Italian-Americans, even into my young adulthood, were disparaged. Like today's immigrants, they took the hard jobs, the dirty jobs, the thankless jobs that others did not want, and they built a life out of that hard work. And they stood tall.
I grew up among diverse peoples, languages and cultures: Italians, Scots, Irish and Welsh, African Americans and people of Eastern European descent. There were Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterians, and a host of other faiths practiced openly in my town.
There were rich and poor, union and non-union. Steubenville is called the "City of Murals" because of a series of murals that adorn many of the buildings in town – paintings that represent diversity in beautiful and graphic terms. In a way, growing up there imprinted a mural upon me, too. It has shaped the way I embrace diversity.
Shortly after I arrived in Boulder as a young assistant professor in 1974, Mary Francis Berry, our first female and our first African American Chancellor, arrived to lead our campus.
At the University of Colorado over the years we have had many leaders, students, faculty and administrators, who have inspired us and helped set the stage for this memorable day.
One was Lucile Berkley Buchanan, the daughter of former slaves, and the first African American woman to graduate from CU in 1918. Because of the social mores and bigotry of the day, she was not allowed to walk across the stage with her classmates to accept her diploma. She sat proudly in Mackey Auditorium waiting for her name to be called but it never was.
After the ceremony, another student quietly handed over her diploma. She had graduated with honors. (Pause) Today there is a scholarship in the name of Lucile Buchanan, who went on to become a school teacher.
That was 92 years ago. Who we are at CU-Boulder is changing all the time - and for the better. This year, our undergraduates of color went up by nearly 100 from last year. Overall, ethnic minorities comprise 15 percent of undergraduates.
This marks a 3 percent increase in the enrollment of students of color compared to 1 percent for non-minority students.
Yet, these numbers are not high enough. They don't represent where we want to be, and they give us only a two-dimensional glimpse of who we are as a campus – a numerical glimpse.
But what should really inspire us is what the numbers tell us about the communities that have delivered these students to us.
They represent hopes and dreams coming to be realized – hopes of individuals, and dreams of entire communities.
When our Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement, Dr. Sallye McKee, joined us in 2007, she promised to always make diversity on our campus a part of the conversation in everything we do. To make it unremarkable. A way of life. A part of the daily fabric at the University of Colorado.
One of the initiatives in our Flagship 2030 Strategic Plan is "Learning in a diverse world,' which calls for improving diversity and fostering a supportive and inclusive climate for everyone.
While our work is far from finished, the fact that we are celebrating here together today - celebrating our progress as a university and as a community together - is just as Dr. King would have wanted it.