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Breakout Musical Theatre Star and Former Lumineers Band Member to Deliver Commencement Address to 2022 University of Northern Colorado Graduates

April 6, 2022

Neyla Pekarek ‘09 will deliver the address at both University of Northern Colorado (UNC) spring commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 7, at Nottingham Field. The first ceremony will be held for all Kenneth W. Monfort College of Business and College of Natural and Health Sciences graduates at 9 a.m. A second ceremony will follow at 12:30 p.m. for all College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, College of Humanities and Social Sciences and College of Performing and Visual Arts graduates.  

Pekarek found immediate success in the music industry after graduating from UNC with a degree in Music Education. In 2010 she joined the Denver folk-rock group The Lumineers as a cellist and vocalist performing all around the world. During that time, The Lumineers were nominated for two Grammys, performed on Saturday Night Live and accepted an invitation to the White House from the Obama administration.  

“I feel incredibly lucky to have fallen into The Lumineers. I am grateful for the experiences and traveling the world and playing on amazing stages, but I think I knew it wasn’t a forever thing for me,” Pekarek said.  

After nearly eight years of writing, touring and recording with The Lumineers, Pekarek parted ways to pursue her own musical endeavors. In January 2019, she released her debut album, Rattlesnake on S-Curve records. The album was inspired by Greeley folk hero Kate Slaughterback who famously fought off 140 rattlesnakes to save her son. 

“I saw her adventurous spirit and a woman who was unwilling to compromise regardless of the circumstances. That was really inspiring to me,” Pekarek said. 

Pekarek’s songs resonated with the Denver Center for Performing Arts who then commissioned her to develop her album into the musical production, Rattlesnake Kate. The musical premiered in February 2022 at the Denver Center.  

Pekarek attributes the experience and knowledge she gained at UNC to spearheading her drive to succeed. She’s looking forward to congratulating the next round of UNC graduates as they begin the next chapter of their lives. 

“The programs at UNC are really strong, they teach the work ethic that’s required to be successful in this industry,” Pekarek said. “UNC also provides you with a community of life-long friends that I still connect with all over the country. I hope the graduates remember to cherish these relationships and lessons learned at UNC.” 

Pekarek is also a proud member of Sweet Adelines International and The Barbershop Harmony Society, two organizations that nurture the craft of barbershop quartet singing. 


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