Commencement ceremonies send off students in positive fashion

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
President Haas hosts a toast with the graduating seniors at the Ebarhard Center in Downtown Grand Rapids. Students shared conversation and pictures with President Haas during the tear-jerking event.

GVL/Kevin Sielaff President Haas hosts a toast with the graduating seniors at the Ebarhard Center in Downtown Grand Rapids. Students shared conversation and pictures with President Haas during the tear-jerking event.

Mary Mattingly

For the students who will be walking across the stage at this semester’s commencement ceremonies, all the hard work they put into their undergrad degree culminates in one piece of paper. But that simple document is a representation of the time and effort they have put in during their last few years at Grand Valley State University.

“Since our motto is ‘Lakers for a lifetime,’ this is a last memorable occasion for (graduates) to go through,” said Sue Willemsen, administrative assistant at the Dean of Students Office. “Students are excited. I have been working with commencement for many years and I get excited to see students get excited. It’s coming to an end; it’s hard to leave Grand Valley and I’m sure students will leave on a good note.”

The Commencement ceremonies, held on April 26, honor those graduating from the winter, spring and summer semesters. They will take place at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids. As Lakers walk across the stage to receive their diplomas, the ceremony serves as a last hurrah for those GVSU students who now join their peers as alumni.

“It’s important for them because it is their last experience at Grand Valley and one of those moments they’ll always remember,” said LeaAnn Tibbe, Assistant Director of Student Life. “Alums often say things like, ‘I can’t remember the speaker, but I do remember the music’ or ‘I can’t remember the music, but I remember the speaker.’ There’s something about that ceremony that always resonates with students.”

The Commencement ceremony at 10 a.m. will honor graduates of the Seidman College of Business, the College of Community and Public Service, the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing, the College of Health Professions and the Kirkhof College of Nursing. The ceremony at 3 p.m. will honor those graduating from the College of Education, the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Although the exact number of seniors who are walking in Commencement will not be known until after GradFest wraps up this Thursday, Willemsen estimates that the numbers will be similar to last year’s winter Commencement Ceremony, with over 3,000 students walking in both ceremonies total.

“There are not too many differences (between each ceremony),” Willemsen said. “Each year we get a little bigger and a little bigger because we have more eligible students. More students are walking than we’ve had in the past. We probably have around 65% of students graduating who walk. It’s a nice ceremony downtown… their families are proud of them, and so are we as Grand Valley staff.”

Each Commencement Ceremony features a guest speaker who will receive an honorary doctorate. The speakers are selected based upon recommendations reported to an honorary degree committee. Members then vote on who will receive these degrees, which is then approved by the president and Board of Trustees. This year, the first speaker will be Dr. Lawrence J. Korb during the morning ceremony.

“He’s got quite an impressive resume,” said Teri Losey, special assistant to the president and secretary of the Board of Trustees. “He’s served as the Assistant Secretary of Defense (from 1981 to 1985). He’s certainly had a distinguished career… that is why (speakers are) nominated.”

The afternoon speaker will be Naana Jane Opoku-Agyeman, the current Minister for Education in Ghana, a country with which GVSU has a study abroad exchange program.

The Office of Student Life takes an active role in planning the commencement ceremonies, from designing the programs to scripting out what people onstage say. The office also oversees staging, curtains, lighting and miccing all those speaking, as well as making sure the graduates process in the correct fashion. The office strives to make sure that the ceremony is a positive memory for those graduating.

“It’s tricky when we do two ceremonies in one day,” Tibbe said. “This one is a pretty standard ceremony, but you have to remember that if you’re the one walking across stage, to you it’s spectacular. We realize that, that’s why we would never say it’s just another Commencement. It’s theirs to remember Grand Valley and take Grand Valley with them for the rest of their lives. We want to make that a positive experience in any way we can.”