Natasha Lujan celebrates graduation from CU Denver with daughter Sienna and mother Michelle Bianchi

Natasha Lujan brushed away tears when asked to describe her feelings at the University of Colorado Denver Fall Commencement on Saturday.

“It’s indescribable. I’m a single mom and reaching this success — that it’s finally over — feels amazing,” Lujan said.

Lujan held her 3-year-old daughter, Sienna, and posed for pictures with her mother, Michelle Bianchi, inside the Colorado Convention Center on a sunny December morning. Lujan, who earned a bachelor of arts degree in psychology, is representative of many CU Denver students: A third of the freshmen at the university are first-generation college students, meaning they are the first members of their family to attend college.

Bianchi fought back even more tears while standing with her daughter before the ceremony. “She’s my first child I’ve seen graduate. I had her at 18,” Bianchi said. “I was a single mom many of those years, and now she’s a single mom who is accomplishing what I only dreamt of.”

CU Denver conferred 1,307 degrees this fall, on pace for a record fall graduating class. The breakdown was 750 undergraduate degrees, 543 masters and 14 doctorates.

The graduating class included 92 veterans and two ROTC students who will be commissioned this week. Chancellor Don Elliman thanked the military service men and women for their service and also noted that 13 students this fall completed their program at the International College Beijing, a partnership between China Agricultural University and CU Denver.

Elliman congratulated the class of 2013 for their accomplishment and asked that they stand and acknowledge those who have been with them on the journey. “Few of us achieve these milestones without the support of our family and our friends,” he said. “I’m quite sure each graduate would agree that they would not have come this far without the support of these very special people in their lives.”

The class included representatives from 23 other nations. Following the national anthem sung by Rachael Perry and Emma Cole, both vocal performance majors in the College of Arts & Media, Associate Professor Charles Ferguson delivered the invocation. “May you have courage when conditions are difficult and may you experience joy when times are prosperous,” he said. “May you never lose the determination to succeed and to serve others.”

University of Colorado President Bruce Benson told the graduates that the harder they work in life, the luckier they’ll become. “On behalf of the University of Colorado I want to congratulate you and all of the people who helped you. Your degree from this great university will change your life forever.”

Nathan Delay smiled as he walked from the convention hall after earning a master’s degree in economics. He is also representative of CU Denver students: The university awards more master’s degrees than any public higher-education institution in the state.

Delay said he earned his bachelor’s degree from a small college in Montana. “So there’s a little bit different vibe here,” he said. “It was a great ceremony. I was very impressed with how smoothly everything went with this many people.”

(Photo at top: CU Denver graduate Natasha Lujan, right, celebrates with her daughter, Sienna, and mother Michelle Bianchi at Fall Commencement Dec. 14 at the Colorado Convention Center.)

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