Rojas returns to Boulder HS to give graduation commencement speech


On Monday (20-Jul) Nell Rojas gave the commencement speech at the 2020 Boulder High School graduation ceremony.  Rojas, a 2006 graduate of the school, recently finished ninth at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Marathon in February and has a career best time of 2:28:07 in the marathon.  In 2019 she won the Bolder Boulder 10K, 40 years after her father Ric won the inaugural race.  In her speech she talked about the importance of winning her hometown race and how she had to quickly change her mindset in the last 300m to take the win by just .12 seconds.  While at Boulder High Rojas earned varsity letters in basketball, cross country, and track & field.

Video of the Graduation Ceremony (Nell's introduction and speech begin at 14:28)

Transcript from Nell's speech

What a year to graduate from high school, right?! I’m Nell Rojas and I graduated from Boulder High School in 2006 so like you I was counting down the day until I could throw all my notes off the 3rd floor balcony. And I am SO SORRY...that you probably didn’t get to do that (joke). I am very honored to be speaking today.
Let's be honest, this is a weird year and a strange way to be graduating. like almost everyone in the world right now, you may feel somewhat uncertain about the next few years. you may have legitimate worries about the health of your family, uncertainty about politics and the ability of the united states to survive what are serious social crises, you might have had plans to work, or go to college or travel next year that are very much up in the air. While these are real and valid concerns, uncertainty is inevitable, and it's ok.
I’m a professional runner, so now you know the name of one professional runner. I won the 2019 Bolder Boulder, 2019 Grandma’s Marathon, and recently finished 9th at the 2020 U.S. marathon olympic trials. But My success in running was never a sure thing, I was never the best runner in high school, college, or even 10 years post college. But I kept running even though I wasn’t sure if it would amount to anything, I ran because I loved it.  Winning the Bolder Boulder was ALWAYS a dream of mine, as my dad won the inaugural Boulder bolder in 1979. The year I won, I was nearing the finish line and thought I had the “W” in the bag. I was already congratulating myself, basically had my hands in the air. As many of you have run the BB, you know that you turn left into the stadium and then you have about 300m tot he finish. Right when I turned left to go into the stadium a girl flew by me. My heart immediately dropped, I had a split second to make a decision. To let her go, or to try in the short time that wehad, to catch her. I DID hesitate and thought “oh I’ll just win next year”, then I thought, “whoknows if I’ll ever be in this position again” and managed to beat her by .12 seconds. (I know it’s alot to think in half a second but I promise it happened.) But thankfully I came to this conclusion as there was no BB this year. You never know what’s going to happen in a race, or in life, but that day I learned quite literally that through the uncertainty you need to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Before this race I had given up running competitively to be an EMT and fulfill requirements to go to PA school, I was a professional triathlete for a stint, and I explored the corporate world. I took a lot of twists and turns, but throughout all of these transitions I continued to run, whether for recreation or a main focus, always doing what I loved to do. Not only did I stick with what I love through the search for my career, I did it my own way. I didn’t see my skin color or body type in any of the women winning races. I’ve been told many times from different coaches and critics that I’m too big to be a marathoner. I don’t fit the mold. I don’t train in a traditional way. I play to MY strengths. And I am proud and love being the “different” one in the top pack. In February of his year I found myself in the Olympic Trials, looking around, surrounded by the best runners in the world, and thinking I need to do this for the girls who were not encouraged to run, because they didn’t fit the mold like me. Use your unique differences to help and inspire others, be strong for those who need someone to relate to.
Like me, you might be very anxious to solve the many challenges that the last decade has thrown at us, and are perhaps feeling somewhat helpless to do so. How can I help cure coronavirus, solve climate change, poverty, and systemic and cultural racism? what i've come to realize is that because these are all social problems, they're all connected to one another: education is connected to hunger, which is connected to animal rights, which is connected to climate change, and so on. so it really doesn't matter what you do. personally, i love to run, so i choose to volunteer through running. Help in a way that you are passionate about and the positive impact you have will go beyond the issue you are working on. But there's no one rightor wrong way.
So you may have uncertainty about your future, but it's ok. take a moment to consider that you share this and many other things, like the air and the water, with literally every other person in the world! if 2020 has taught us anything, it's that we're all in this together. The uncertainty of life is ok, do YOUR thing in a way that works for you, and help in a way that inspires you.

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