Magazine Feature / People

Student finishes bachelor’s degree after long hiatus

Degree interrupted.

With his wife and children looking on, Mark Lemmons will walk down the aisle at the University of DenverCommencement Ceremonies June 7 to accept his diploma — a Bachelor of Arts degree in science and technology fromUniversity College — two decades after earning his high school diploma.

“It always bothered me that I was so good at school but never finished it,” Lemmons says.

After graduating from high school as salutatorian and student body president in 1988, Lemmons enrolled at DU on a scholarship with good grades and a dream to be a lawyer. He majored in political science and interned with then U.S. Sen. Tim Wirth.

Then, between his junior and senior years, a family financial tragedy stopped his college career short. His father lost his oil-company job and his investments during Denver’s energy bust. IRS penalties left his family bankrupt and Lemmons without financial aid. He was forced to drop out a year away from graduation.

Bitter but determined to go on, Lemmons began building a career and a family. He married Chrissy shortly after leaving DU, and within a few years they had two children, Phillip and Hannah.

He began making ski films, the first one debuting with DU’s Alpine Club. And he learned the video business inside and out and began moving up the ranks with Quark, specializing in technology. The future was bright, despite the nagging feeling of “unfinished business.”

Then, in the late 1990s, as his family and career were growing, Lemmons began having trouble seeing, swallowing and standing up straight. Doctors first diagnosed multiple sclerosis, but tests later revealed Chiari malformation, a rare genetic condition in which the cerebellum extends below the skull. The ensuing surgeries and recoveries, he says, “put everything on hold,” including his desire to go back to school.

After he recovered, he became determined to finish his college career. He looked around at online and community colleges, but nothing short of a DU degree would do.

When University College announced its Bachelor of Arts Completion Program (BACP), it seemed “tailor made” for him. The credits he had previously earned at DU were accepted as electives. Lemmons says he appreciated the flexibility of online and classroom instruction, and the professional atmosphere of University College and the common learning courses that made him feel part of the University again.

University College Dean James Davis says Lemmons is the first graduate of 218 students who have enrolled in the program. BACP students are in their late 20s through their early 70s, with Lemmons’ 38 years the average. They come to the BACP to enhance their careers, to fulfill a promise to their parents or, like Lemmons, to finish something they had started and to provide a positive example for their children.

“We discovered the reasons for not completing college are myriad and painful,” says Davis. “We advise them to put the past behind them, remember why they’re here and encourage them to stay with it.”

Lemmons admits it was tough on him and his family to return to rigors of college life. But he says he learned discipline that helped him drop 30 pounds and the skills to enhance his position as chief technology officer at Thought Equity Motion, a media licensing firm. And his children, he says, learned the importance of education as they watched their father put his heart and soul into reaching a goal that had eluded him.

“It was nice to broaden my horizons,” Lemmons says. “It helped me grow into a better version of myself.

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