Alumni / Summer 2017

Big names in business, politics and law make up the first class of DU Distinguished Alumni

When Crisanta Duran (BA ’02, public affairs and Spanish) decided to run for office at age 29, her dual bachelor’s degrees became powerful tools. “Being able to speak with people in their native language was very, very helpful” says the sixth-generation Coloradan who in November became the first Latina to be named speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives.

In May, the University honored Duran’s accomplishments and service to the community by naming her to the inaugural class of Distinguished Alumni. The new award, conceived by Advancement, recognizes a group of six alumni who are leaders in their fields and demonstrate DU’s far-reaching impact.

Duran’s fellow recipients are just as distinguished: Debra Crew (BA ’93), president and CEO of Reynolds American; United Nations prosecutor Brenda Hollis (JD ’77); Imran Khan (BSBA ’00), chief strategy officer at Snapchat; Jim Kennedy (BSBA ’70), chairman of media conglomerate Cox Enterprises; and Craig Patrick (BSBA ’69), a former DU hockey player and athletics director who later managed the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins. They each received a walnut-and-steel award—crafted on campus—depicting the topography of Mount Evans.

“Crisanta’s leadership is a barrier-breaker,” says Brandon Buzbee, associate vice chancellor, global networks, adding that each award recipient personifies DU’s pioneering spirit. “In a lot of ways, these individuals are leaders because they’re doing things that others haven’t done before them.”

A seven-member selection committee made up of alumni spent four months choosing the honorees. Committee members focused on shaping a class that represented a diversity of ages, programs, backgrounds and careers.

“They’re very well-rounded individuals who all have been able to excel at the highest levels,” says Craig Harrison (BSBA ’03), University trustee and chair of the selection committee. “It’s leadership; it’s the ability to better the communities they’re in; it’s the philanthropic side. Every one of these people, we felt, had big impacts on their communities and showcased what it means to be DU alumni.”

A new set of individuals will be recognized each year going forward. The University has honored individual alumni achievements since 1951, but Advancement wanted to start a new tradition this year, one that simultaneously applauds a group of luminaries, instills a sense of pride in the Pioneer community, and inspires current and graduating students to pursue their own ambitions. The award ceremony took place during the inaugural Alumni Weekend, designed to celebrate alumni achievements and to welcome new graduates into the alumni family. Students had the opportunity to interact with the honorees and other alumni during the award reception and at a dinner before the ceremony.

“It’s meant to encourage the next generation of Pioneers to aspire, to dream,” Buzbee says. “[We want to] fundamentally challenge what our students thought they should or could accomplish.”

Harrison agrees: “Done right, these award winners—this year and in future years—should serve as a huge inspiration to the students, [so] that they can eventually reach similar heights in their careers.”


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