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The President’s Speaker

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Former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino is no stranger to Pueblo. In fact, she graduated from Colorado State University-Pueblo, then called the University of Southern Colorado, in 1994 and began her climb to one of the most visible media jobs in the country.

Perino is now a featured panelist on the Fox News Channel show, “The Five,” and despite her time in Washington and living on the East Coast, Perino still considers Southern Colorado home.

Perino’s return visit to Pueblo this May centered on her new book, “And the Good News Is…Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side,” which was released in April and has spent several weeks as a New York Times best-seller. The book chronicles her upbringing in rural Wyoming, her move to Colorado and her struggle to find who and what she was meant to be.

On May 22, Perino spoke with Pulp reporters Sara Knuth and Christy Wiabel about her visit to Southern Colorado and what she hopes people will get out of her new book.

PULP:  So, are you excited to get back to Southern Colorado?

PERINO:  Yes, I am. You know, it’s one of those things that’s hard when you’re on the East Coast, especially with the job that I have. There’s not a lot of flexibility. You can’t work from home when you’re working from the White House or working in television. You have to be there in the office, so I don’t get to come back very often. It’s not easy to get there, as you know. So, yeah, I’m excited to get back. It’s where a lot of my career opportunities were started, right there in Pueblo at the University of Southern Colorado. I know it’s called CSU-Pueblo now. It’s hard for me to remember that though. I have several friends, and you know, I had great professors. I still stay in touch with them.

PULP: Were there any special places in Pueblo that you particularly hung out at that you’re looking forward to getting back to?

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PERINO: I won’t have time to visit this time around, but I was a waitress at Café Del Rio. Does that still exist, out at the nature center? Is there a restaurant there still?

PULP: Yes, there is!

PULP: In your book, you talked about when your dad brought you to Pueblo, you didn’t want to be here.

PERINO: I didn’t!  I pouted the entire way from Parker to Pueblo. I just looked out the window. I couldn’t even meet his eyes, I was so upset he was making me go look at that school. And immediately upon getting there, I met Glen Miller, who I believe is retired now, and I realized, “Oh, he gets me.”

And then I got the scholarship offer for the speech team. I also think I was smart enough to realize that the practical experience that I could get at the school would lead me to opportunities that I couldn’t get if I went and studied theory anywhere else for four years.

PULP:  What advice do you have for students at CSU-Pueblo?

PERINO:  I am a big believer, and one of the reasons I wrote this book is I want to make sure people understand that you do not have to have gone to an Ivy League school or an elite university to end up advising the president of the United States in the Oval Office.

But I would say that one of the most important things, depending on what you want in your life, is trust that if you are doing the work, and you’re meeting people, and you’re advancing your skills that you don’t have to have a whole life plan ahead of you, because something is going to come along and change it.

That’s a theme throughout my life. I drove myself crazy making plans, and that’s how I dealt with my anxiety and vulnerabilities. I would make a plan and a list and say, “This is exactly what I’m going to do.” But I could never succeed that way.

I think the most important thing for all college students, first of all if you’re either born in America or if you’ve had an opportunity to be educated in America, the number one best thing that can give you a leg up in the world is that.

Number two, now that you have a college degree, you’ve got a leg up on a lot of competition around the world. And make no mistake, you are no longer just competing for jobs just from people within your state or across the country. We are now in a worldwide competitive market, so you have to think that way, so that leads me to my third thing, which is you have to be willing to move. That doesn’t mean that you can’t move home. You just have to be willing to go and try something different and get out of your comfort zone. I think that risk aversion is one of our biggest problems in America.

PULP:  You talk about civility a lot in your book and that it is something that’s missing in our society. How do you think we can get civility back into our discourse?

PERINO:  One of the things I loved about writing the book is that my conclusion, after doing all this thinking and experiencing this for a while, is that I don’t have to own anybody else’s comments. I have enough responsibility just being responsible for my own. And civility is a choice, and I decide every morning how I want to be.

Now last night was the first time ever, after O’Reilly, there’s this guy that works for Rand Paul, his name is Sergio Gor, and he tweets something at me like, “Dana takes a cheap shot at Rand Paul,” or something. This is about the NSA spying program of which I know a lot…I did punch back, and I felt that moment of gratification, but it didn’t last very long. Then I sat there going, “I shouldn’t have done that.” So I made a choice to be like that for one moment, and that doesn’t sit well with me.

Some people love to fight all the time, but I think there’s some hope, especially because the next generation of leaders is quite a bit different. If you look at some of the new members of congress and senators, I mean, there actually is some hope. If you look at Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Amy Klobuchar and folks like that…Kirsten Gillibrand is another one, I just feel like their tone and their language are more productive. So perhaps there’s a generational change.

PULP: You also talked about the “quarter life crisis” in your book.

PERINO:  It’s actually so interesting to me to watch young women, after they’ve read the book, come up to me and say, “I had no idea I was going through that,” or “I felt like you were speaking right to me.” Everybody seems to go through it, and nobody’s ever really written about it in this way. My point is that I went through it, and I was so lost. And you think, “How could I be so ungrateful for all those things that I had.” I mean, at the time, I had this great job, and everything was going my way, but I was still so anxious about my future. And I didn’t need to be.

So I think the quarter life crisis is just that everyone has got to get through it. You do emerge on the other side.

My favorite piece of advice in the book is that choosing to be loved is not a career limiting decision. I hear a lot of young women that I mentor, sometimes guys too, but women in particular will say, “Well, I’m going to focus on my career for the next eight years, and then I will get married.” It’s not necessarily going to work out that way, so keeping your eyes and ears open for love along the way is really important. Not letting the opportunity pass you by.

I feel like, you know, this book debuted at number one on The New York Times best-seller list. It went down to number three and then went back up to number two which is highly unusual, and I call it “the little book that could.”

The book is appealing all across genders and age groups. That really makes me happy, because I tried not to make it just specific to young women, and I stripped out the gender-specific advice. I like it that I’ve seen so many veterans and active-duty military come through the book signing lines because they want to hear more about George W. Bush.

PULP: Are you thinking about possibly writing another book?

PERINO:  I’ll tell you what, I should write a book about my dog. I cannot believe how popular he is. Anywhere I’ve gone across the country people…in fact I had to make an appeal to people from the show. I said, “I’m coming to Florida, and I’m going to beg you, don’t bring any treats or toys for Jasper.” He is so spoiled, and he’s going to get fat. I couldn’t even carry all the stuff that I was given, so I realize that clearly Jasper is more popular than me. I should milk that for a while.

 

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PULP Originals

The Four Year

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The campus of Colorado State University-Pueblo can be seen from miles away. Positioned on a reclusive hill on the edge of town, the school watches over Pueblo silently. To onlookers, its distinctive architecture is a striking reminder of the students who, for generations, have spent four years of their lives there.

Or at least that’s how it was supposed to be.

When the campus was first built, its state-of-the-art design received national praise in the February 1967 issue of the magazine Architecture/West.

“The problem which Pueblo posed for a new college was that the architecture be a symbol: a symbol of education and culture; a symbol strong enough to create a favorable image with which to envelope the city,” it said.

The modern campus of CSU-Pueblo was also intended to be a symbol of the hard-won battle fought by the students and legislators who put it there in the first place.

A few years before the campus was built in 1964, the school was known as Pueblo Junior College and its degree options were limited to two-year programs.

“A four-year college will improve the image of Pueblo, benefit the students and parents of the whole of Southeastern Colorado, help sell new industry on the city and in the area and give a tax reduction.” -Richard Cline, president of the Young Democrats of Pueblo, 1963.

“In 1960, Pueblo was one of only four of the largest 200 cities in the U.S. that did not have an accredited four-year college within 25 miles,” according to a commemorative video compiled by the university archives.

At that time, though, local students wanted more.

In December 1960, a crowd of young people gathered in a ballroom to show their support for a four-year college in Pueblo. Their dream, which would allow them to obtain more advanced degrees, meant that they could get an education within the city limits of a town that many of them called home.

And the Puebloans who stayed were loyal to their town. In a February issue, co-editor of campus newspaper, The Arrow, Jim Osnowitz wrote in an editorial that students were remaining too loyal to their Pueblo high schools upon entering college.

Regardless of their motivations, though, Pueblo students were eager to stay in their hometown for college and make a good impression on the public, which would ultimately vote on the measure.

“If PC were already a four-year college, impressions would not be so important, but as it stands now, one of the most important phases of transformation of the school’s status is that of public relations. This is mostly up to the students and the impression they make on the public,” wrote Peggy Stock, co-editor of The Arrow.

The push for a four-year university in Pueblo wasn’t just limited to students, however.

The rest of the community saw the school as an opportunity for Pueblo to grow economically and for the city’s image to improve.

Pueblo Senator Vincent Massari led the legislative push to turn the university into a four-year institution in the ‘60s, with tremendous support from the community.

“A four-year college will improve the image of Pueblo, benefit the students and parents of the whole of Southeastern Colorado, help sell new industry on the city and in the area and give a tax reduction,” said Richard Cline, president of the Young Democrats of Pueblo in 1963.

“The money from the state government will continue to be forth-coming in 1964—especially in the view of the rapid growth and economic importance of our area,” he said.

All of those hopes weren’t new, however.

In 1926, before a university even existed in Pueblo, the Colorado senate killed a bill that would have created a four-year college in the town. Within a few years, though, Pueblo had a two-year school.

When the college began accepting its first students in 1933, the entire population fit into three vacant rooms in the Pueblo County Courthouse. Then known as Southern Colorado Junior College, the school only accommodated 63 students. In 1935, SCJC’s first graduating class consisted of 17 students.

Students protest for university status at then Pueblo Junior College. Photo courtesy of CSU-Pueblo archives

Students protest for university status at then Pueblo Junior College. Photo courtesy of CSU-Pueblo archives

As the school began to grow, it moved into buildings in central Pueblo and stayed there for 29 years. The Orman Avenue campus, now Pueblo Community College, welcomed students to its first building in the fall of 1937.

The original building plans for the Orman Avenue campus were meticulous. These old documents, signed by people who are now long-gone, depict a time when typewriters and cursive writing were the standard.

Fading blue ink accounts for even the most seemingly obvious building instructions, including a declaration that, “Before ordering (bathroom) partitions, the contractor shall take measurements at the building.”

There came a time, however, when even those buildings, with all of their scrupulous planning, failed to house the growing student population.

Various 1960s issues of The Arrow reported that the school began breaking enrollment records nearly every consecutive semester back then.

At the time, Pueblo Junior College only had 23 actual classrooms. As the population grew, so did the need for new buildings, especially if the school was going to be a four-year institution.

The student population was growing so fast in the face of the transition to a four-year college that many students were concerned with having to stay at the Orman Avenue campus while the new campus was built.

“I am sure that all will agree that the long-term benefits to be derived will make it all worth while, as we envision the development of one of the most beautiful college campuses in the state of Colorado,” Pueblo Junior College President M.C. Knudson wrote in a 1962 Arrow editorial.

“If the (board of trustees) approve this plan of dissolution and the necessary funds are forthcoming from the state legislature, Pueblo Junior College will cease to exist on Sept. 1, 1963, and become a state-supported four-year college,” he wrote.

In May 1964, about 2,500 people attended the groundbreaking ceremony for a campus that would go on to house generations of Pueblo students. But recently, enrollment has been dwindling and, unlike students who were proud to stay in their Pueblo hometown for school, students are now finding themselves leaving their hometown in droves.

Would Pueblo even have a four-year college if it were up to modern Pueblo kids to fight for it?

Three years ago, when my friends and I first started applying to colleges, nearly all of them said they wanted to get out of Pueblo, and many of them did.

Even today, when I tell people that I stayed in Pueblo for college, they give me a sidelong glance, like they think it must have been my only option. CSU-Pueblo’s reputation among young people is that it’s a cheap and easy school to get into. Too easy. So easy that it must be a fallback school.

And the city of Pueblo isn’t exactly favorable among young people, either.

In some ways, it’s difficult to blame the kids who leave. The standard complaint is that there is nothing to do in town, especially for people under 21. And it’s true. An 18-year-old would be hard-pressed to find a place to hang out after 10 p.m. in Pueblo.

The pride that young people felt in the ‘60s for their hometown has been replaced by a series of explanations as to why they chose to stay here for school.

In Osnowitz’s editorial about college students remaining too loyal to their high schools, he shared his annoyance with students who still wore their letter jackets to class and attended high school football games. To him, their pride in the Pueblo community outweighed even their pride in their college.

Today, students who stayed in Pueblo for college feel like they have to explain themselves. This conversation pops up from time to time, when I’m in the company of a fellow Pueblo native who decided to attend CSU-Pueblo. The topic has actually inundated so many conversations that the explanations have become robotic.

One friend of mine told me she stayed because she didn’t want to move. She simply wanted to stay at home. Another said she didn’t want to pay more for the same education at another school. But those explanations are never enough for critical outsiders.

It’s not enough that I liked CSU-Pueblo’s mass communications department or that I thought I could still get a good education here. It had to be that I got a full scholarship. To other people, that must have been the only legitimate reason why I would stay here. And sometimes, I catch myself telling them that.

In recent years, a stigma has developed amongst young people about attending college in Pueblo. But if high school students don’t want to stay here for college, then what were the students and legislators in the ‘60s fighting for?

Would Pueblo even have a four-year college if it were up to modern Pueblo kids to fight for it?

In 2013, the administration of CSU-Pueblo announced a budget crisis that it attributed to declining enrollment. When it was all over, 22 staff positions were cut, most of which were unfilled.

To this day, the administration is concerned with working to increase enrollment numbers. The university reported gains in enrollment in fall 2014 and again in the spring, when the total on-campus enrollment was 4,082. According to the CSU-Pueblo fact book, even that number is down 1,148 from fall 2011, when the on-campus enrollment was at 5,230.

That’s a sharp contrast to the 1960s, when enrollment records were breaking after every consecutive semester.

In a fall 2012 survey distributed to entering CSU-Pueblo freshman, 33.5 percent of the students who took it identified themselves as Pueblo natives. Another 23.1 percent identified themselves as natives of other southeastern Colorado counties and 27 percent said they were from other Colorado counties.

So, if the majority of CSU-Pueblo’s students are from around Pueblo, and enrollment is down, what does that mean for Pueblo?

The idea that local kids are moving out of town isn’t only a problem for Pueblo. Millennials have been flocking to urban areas since they have been old enough to move and according to Pew Research, it looks like the upcoming generation will continue that trend.

The age grouping for millennials cuts off at people who were born in 1996, so kids that are currently high school seniors belong to the next generation. As those students look toward graduation in May, many of them will likely move out of Pueblo for college, too.

But for the university and Southern Colorado, just like in the 1960s, a new generation of students will have to ask themselves why should they stay and what kind of university they want to build. What is the reasoning? It’s a new millennium but for college students the existential questions of identity remains the same.

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From levees to murals

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From Chicago to Peoria, Ill., to Puerto Rico to Tunisia Sangre de Cristo Arts Center Executive Director Jim Richerson has held jobs all over the world. But Colorado has always been in the back of his mind, from the minute he vacationed near Monarch in the 70s. Recently, he sat down with Kara Mason to talk about the arts center, his goals and visions and the local art scene.

You’ve been at the arts center for a year this March, what were some of your big goals when you took the job of executive director?

I think goal-setting is very interesting. But it’s rather presumptuous to come into a job with goals. I’m a facilitator, so one of the things I did before I accepted the job was I put together a one-page survey, and gave it to the board and the staff because it’s a tool like that that helps me understand how I can help an organization. Out of that survey I got a sense of where consensus might be and what would be the first big things to do.

What did you find with that survey?

The three things that really came out of it for me was a lot of people had said the arts center had fallen off of people’s radar. A number of people said that they really felt that some of our major funders had stepped back because of the change of the guard. I was the fifth person since Maggie. The other thing that really came out was a good number of people said, ‘what’s the plan for the arts center? Where’s it going?’ So, I really took those things and I ran with them. A plan takes some time, but the other two things I’ve felt I’ve already addressed being here about a year.

A year seems like not a lot of time. What progress have you seen?

I really felt bringing Picasso, Matisse and Chagall here did that. It really did have a positive effect for us. And it really did help us re-engage with some major funders. So, two of the things we’ve addressed and I feel we’re on a good path.

One criticism of the arts center is that it really caters to children and older patrons. There’s so much here for them. How do you capture the twenty-somethings?

I think we’ve done a pretty good job of engaging younger artists. Like, Own-Your-Own — that’s an economic opportunity for them. You can go upstairs today and in the gallery is Maeve Eichelberger who hails from North of Denver — Maeve, I think, is 23-years-old. I think that’s more myth than reality in my short tenure here. I think we do a pretty good job. I see a lot of high school kids here. We do First Friday Artwalk and I definitely see your demographic come in here.

But I’d like to turn that proposition around and ask how we become compelling so that you support us as members. It’s an important time in your life to support community efforts. I think we owe you more things, and it’s a give and take situation.

In the past year we’ve seen some major shows come through the arts center. How do you keep that going? How do you top Picasso?

Well, stay tuned. I’ve been very lucky in my career to get to know some people with some pretty unbelievable collections. But it’s a balancing act. I realize that the arts center has a community and regional role to play, but I also feel with the horsepower the arts center has we owe it to the community to find Picasso, Matisse and Chegal. My goal each year is to have a significant regional show. This summer Colors of the Southwest will be here. Ninety-three artists from Taos and Santa Fe will be coming.

Having a fresh set of eyes and being right in the middle of Southern Colorado’s art scene, what are difficulties you see our art community encountering?

You know, I don’t see many difficulties at all. I see a lot of upside. There is just a rich spirit of valuing art-making in this community. The levee is a perfect example of something that has been going on for decades. I look at the Creative Corridor and other creative efforts, and I see a lot of energy. I see a lot of upside in how we can engage that energy.

What do you see as major strengths in our art scene? Is it murals? What about fine art?

I clearly think the murals are strong and powerful. I look at the murals being done. There’s a lot of workshops for that form of expression, and that fine art that’s going on here is a great way to refine the eye and look at lots of different genre’s of art. But the street art is also important in energizing the scene.

Which local artists should we be watching right now?

That’s a dangerous question, and you’re not going to get an answer out of me. I think there’s a lot of exciting artists going on.

What direction would you like to see local art take?

I don’t think you can predict a direction. I think you just have to keep a conducive environment going. I did a project in Peoria with some engineers — and engineers, of course, are very concerned with all of the inputs so they can predict the outcome — and it was a frustrating relationship because they would say “Jim, we don’t understand all of your inputs and your output is really difficult to understand.” And I said let’s look at what I value as the output. To me, what I’m looking for in the output is something creative and innovative, otherwise known as art.

I’m old enough to understand now that if I understood the outcome from all of the inputs, the outcome would probably not be that creative. And so I have to tolerate and embrace these unknowns because I think it’s going to energize an output.

Maybe that needing to know the output is a little ingrained in our culture being a manufacturing town.

Oh, it is.

What do you want your legacy at the arts center to be?

Too soon. I just am so grateful that I have seven years until the 50th anniversary, and I suppose my legacy will be tied to what that 50th anniversary looks like.

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