Throttling Through a Commencement Curveball
How one CMC graduate celebrated her academic accomplishments mid-pandemic and her outlook on the outdoor job market
Graduating college is an incredible accomplishment that deserves to be celebrated. Though the pandemic had other plans for the class of 2020, Colorado Mountain College Leadville graduates like Kesley White found alternative ways to recognize this milestone.
“Graduation was a big deal for my family and I, especially being a 4.0 student,” says Kesley who was home-schooled prior to CMC, “It was difficult to find ways to celebrate as we were all in quarantine. Instead of planning a big celebration, I actually bought myself a brand new dirt bike and I took a weekend trip down to Buena Vista to ride all weekend.”
Though the effort behind virtual commencement ceremonies and FaceTime graduation parties is appreciated, it’s difficult to recreate the feeling of walking across the stage or turning a tassel. Not being surrounded by friends and family, or being able to thank her professors, made it especially hard for Kesley to want to stream the ceremony.
“I didn’t watch the full ceremony,” recalls Kesley, “but on the way to dirt biking for the weekend, we pulled over on the side of the road and listened to Kent Clement announce the names until mine was called. It was both an amazing feeling to hear my name, but also a bit heartbreaking hearing it over a screen.”
Kesley White graduated from Colorado Mountain College Leadville this past spring with a degree in Outdoor Recreation Leadership. Though joining the job market mid-pandemic isn’t ideal for most budding careers, she remains hopeful.
“I am actually excited to see where the industry goes,” says Kesley, who has opted to stay in Leadville for now, “With the current state of the world, perspectives have changed and people are realizing that they don’t want to spend their entire lives just working.”
Glancing at trailhead parking lots, campground reservations, and National Park activity, it feels like Americans are discovering the benefits of outdoor recreation now more than ever. The increased interest shows promise for the outdoor recreation industry, but economic uncertainty looms for college graduates in almost every field.
“It’s hard to be positive all of the time right now, as the outdoor job market has always been competitive,” says Kesley, “I’m currently building my resume and am looking into outdoor recreation jobs around Leadville. It’s going to be a hard transition but CMC has started me off well by giving me great communication and leadership skills.”
Throughout its history, Leadville’s rugged mountains and the extraordinary experience of living above 10,000’ has generated a unique population of residents. The bumper sticker, “We’re here because we’re not all there” has become an inside joke among this hardy high altitude community. It takes a person of special character to live in Leadville, and it’s no surprise that many Colorado Mountain College students tend to thrive in this unique mountain town.
Driven by their passion for outdoor recreation, and the desire to stay closely connected to the wilderness, CMC students like Kesley White discover that Leadville is an ideal base-camp for post-grad plans.
Organizations like Outward Bound, Get Outdoors Leadville!, Copper Mountain, and Woodward Barn create access points and generate interest in mountain recreation among new and existing outdoor enthusiasts. It’s an ideal place for recent graduates looking to dip their toes into an outdoor career while leveraging local connections and working towards professional goals.
“I want to get younger generations out further and further into the world,” says Kesley, “I truly believe that’s what will bring the world closer together.”
For now, Kesley plans to stick around and explore career opportunities while working on CMC avalanche course certifications. She’ll continue to nurture her passion for learning, exploring all things wild, and inspiring others to step out of their comfort zones and into the mountains.