Charlotte Buchanan Is 2013 Student Commencement Speaker

Western State Colorado University will confer degrees to more than 340 students from 40 states at its 2013 commencement on Saturday, May 11. Charlotte Buchanan, of Homer, Alaska, will present the student address.

Buchanan was born in Alaska, and despite difficult circumstances, she thrived and spent more than 15 years climbing the corporate ladder in marketing and sales before being laid off during the recent financial crisis.

“I had always dreamed of going to college,” Buchanan says. “The way some people dream of being rock stars, I had always wanted to be a college student. When I was laid off, I realized it was an opportunity.”

Buchanan discovered Western while working in sales for a company based in Montrose. During a trip to Gunnison, a friend recommended she consider attending the university.

“At age 31, I stepped onto the Western campus as a college student. It was the proudest day of my life,” Buchanan says. “That feeling has never left me. My professors have been my sole support. And because of their encouragement, I will be graduating with honors in just three years.”

Buchanan says she worried about being older than other students at Western when she began classes but discovered she fit right in.

“The students have allowed me to share my professional and personal experiences with them, and it has provided me with tremendous insight,” she says. “I was inspired to become an RA and, for the past year, I have lived, learned, laughed and become very attached to these young people.

Buchanan will graduate with honors with a bachelor of arts in Business Administration. She plans to move to South Korea to teach English.

She will be joined by 320 undergraduate students from 40 states who will receive their degrees. Additionally, 21 graduate students will receive their masters of arts in Education or masters of fine arts in Creative Writing.

Some Questions & Answers with Charlotte:

Q: What do you love about Western and the Gunnison Valley community?

A: Western's small size allowed me to feel involved in my classes and close to my professors.

Q: Have there been professors that have influenced your growth as a student?

A: My professors took the extra time to counsel me when I doubted my abilities. That additional attention helped me achieve my personal goals.

Q: Name a memorable Western experience that will stay with you through time.

A: I was sitting in remedial math, my freshman year and feeling embarrassed about how old I was. I was sure everyone around me was thinking, "Why is this lady in our class?" Then a fellow freshman turned to me and asked, "So what dorm do you live in?" I laughed and said, "I'm a little old to be living in a dorm!" He replied, "Oh, I didn't think you were older." I realized how silly I was being and that education is, indeed, the great equalizer. I was just a student like everyone else. 

Q: Why did you want to be the student commencement speaker?

A: I wanted an opportunity to share some of what I know about the world. I came from corporate America and I have some practical advice to offer. My life experience has given me a perspective that may resonate with my classmates. Mostly, I just want them to learn from my mistakes, and I worry about not being there to advise them as they venture out on their own. 

Q: What can we expect to hear in your address on Saturday?

A: I've already been through my 20s and the first part of my career. I will be imparting what I learned. I want to speak about how conflicting and confusing that chapter can be as you struggle to reconcile society's impression, your parents expectations and who you really are.

 Q: What do you hope your fellow graduates will take away from your speech?

A: My greatest hope is that in a confusing time, my classmates will remember some piece of advice that helps them successfully navigate a difficult time in their lives.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - 8:45am