Hickenlooper, home-grown achievers laud student winners

The Colorado Statesman

A couple hours after he was sworn in as Colorado’s 42nd governor, John Hickenlooper made the trip back across Civic Center Park to congratulate nine students, along with classmates, teachers and family members, for their winning visions of the state. Joined by newly minted Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and a slew of Colorado-based achievers, Hickenlooper told the youngsters to aim high at a celebratory luncheon on Tuesday at the Denver Art Museum.

“You’re going to be the ones to move this state forward in the 21st Century,” Hickenlooper said before commiserating over the bitter cold that shrouded his inaugural ceremony, also attended by the contest winners and their entourages.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia stand on stage with the nine winners of the My Colorado contest, sponsored by Hickenlooper’s inaugural committee, during a luncheon on Jan. 11 at the Denver Art Museum.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“Was anybody cold out there? It was freezing!” Hickenlooper exclaimed. Noting that he’d “thought it was important not to wear gloves,” the otherwise notoriously practical politician continued: “Halfway through that speech, my fingers were so cold — I had no feeling — I couldn’t turn the pages,” he said, demonstrating that he had to flip through his inaugural address with his elbows.

Then Hickenlooper told the students he was prepared to issue his fourth executive order — following three concerned with economic development he had earlier announced and signed at the Capitol — to create the Governor’s Education Leadership Council and would sign the document at the luncheon.

“It’s going to demonstrate that we’re looking at the arc of your education, not just as high school or elementary school or college or graduate school, but as one arc,” Hickenlooper said. He went on to explain: “You don’t become different people when you go from elementary school to middle school, right? When you go from middle school to high school, you’re the same person. Why do we have a whole different system, as if you’ve suddenly transformed yourself in that one moment.” He said the council would aim to lower dropout rates, close achievement gaps and remove barriers to college.

Hickenlooper’s transition team chose nine winners from among hundreds of submissions to the My Colorado contest based on “creativity, innovation, historical knowledge and passion for the state.” Dalton Elementary School first-grader Collin Lowe, for instance, wrote a paragraph listing the things Colorado means to him, referencing the people (especially his family), sports and the mountains. Other winning entries included a clay diorama depicting sites around the state built by Skyview Elementary School fourth-grader Kenna Thomsen and a series of photographs taken by Peak to Peak charter school senior Jack Dickson.

Before Hickenlooper arrived, the students listened to Denver Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton, Olympian and former NFL player Jeremy Bloom, Grammy-winning jazz singer Dianne Reeves and award-winning film producer Paula DuPré Pesmen, all Colorado residents with advice on overcoming adversity and giving back to the community.

The roughly 300 in attendance chowed down at room-length school cafeteria-style tables on delicious grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches, chips, sliced veggies and enormous brownies.

At the end of his speech, Hickenlooper retold a staple campaign trail anecdote — one he said his staff has forbidden him from telling again — about a Wyoming student who suggested the opposite of “woe” is “giddy-up,” and brought down the house. Then he took a handful of questions from the audience.

“Is it easy being the governor?” asked a second-grader. “I’ve only been the governor for about three hours,” Hickenlooper said. “I don’t know, but I hope it’s easy.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com