It was a day that would make the heart sing, a Saturday alive in colors and breezes. It was a day that brought this long, hot summer of fire and unfathomable grief to an end, a day that sent the first long shadows of autumn dancing across the campus of Colorado College.
And as a warm day ebbed into the cool of twilight, Jill Tiefenthaler, the daughter of an Iowa popcorn farmer, officially became just the 13th president of the 138-year-old liberal arts college that is the jewel of our village.
CC people gathered in their majestic stone Shove Chapel on the 90-acre campus, coming to the podium in waves to talk of the beauty and purpose of the place. The list of speakers included '79 grad and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, who said the college changed her life in unimaginable ways.
There was a hush, too, as Jane Hilberry, a professor of English at the school, read her poem titled "Inaugurations."
"A friend called this the summer of death — her brother dying of cancer, the fire, our friends' son killed, Aurora shootings," she read.
She told of planting squash in her garden the day after the Waldo Canyon Fire jumped the canyon and laid waste to nearly 350 homes on our western flank, and how now, as autumn arrives, the plants are giving up their bounty.
"That's an inauguration, isn't it?" she read. "When seedlings, planted in unrepentant heat, in a city of fire, survive and set blossoms — each twisted flower a small flame, contained now, not smeared across our mountains, not consuming, just a blossom kept in a cedar box, offering its generous fruit, its beauty?"
It was a day like that, a day of poetry and carefully crafted words, of reflection and memories in a sea of young men and women in funky clothes and sneakers who now walk the campus and hundreds more from years gone by who came back in suits and ties and flowing dresses to welcome CC's new president.
The ceremony began with the playing of Bach's Prelude and Fugue in E Minor. A few moments later the Colorado College Choir and Chamber Chorus shook the walls and misted many eyes with their performance of "America the Beautiful" — its words, as you know, penned in a room at the original Antlers Hotel here by Katharine Lee Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College who came West for just one summer to teach at CC and was inspired by the majesty atop the mountain that sparkles above our town.
Tiefenthaler (Teef'-en-taller), who took the reins from CC president Richard Celeste in July 2011 and embarked on a "year of listening" to students, faculty, staff and alumni around the country — CC grads also live in more than 80 foreign lands — stood then amid the pomp and spoke for some 20 minutes about the significance of a liberal arts education.
"When I was flying to an alumni event last year," she told the hundreds, "a man in the next seat asked me what I did. I told him that I was the president of a small liberal arts college. 'Wow,' he said, 'good luck with that.'"
But quickly, she made her point, speaking to the purpose of the place and other colleges and universities like it.
"We're not teaching to the test," Tiefenthaler said. "We don't judge the success of our alumni by their salaries. We're opening minds and hearts so students can see opportunities in the world, focus their energies and collaborate with others to find new solutions to complex problems. We're preparing them to be more resilient in the face of change, which is the one thing they'll surely face for the rest of their lives. We're helping them discover a deeper appreciation for living things — and a passion for life."
And as this summer when we cried came to an end, we were reminded of the treasure — with a good hockey team — just north of downtown amid the emerald grass and the towering oaks and pines. And the singers sang:
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.
Rich Tosches (email@example.com) is also a columnist for the Denver Post. He and his wife Susie Burghart co-chair Colorado College's 1874 Society, a group of donors to the school. Burghart is also a member of CC's board of trustees.