More than 1,000 students graduate at fall 2017 commencement

GVL / Emily Frye   
Alexis Mencotti accepts her diploma from President Haas during GVSU Commencement on Saturday December 9, 2017.

GVL / Emily Frye Alexis Mencotti accepts her diploma from President Haas during GVSU Commencement on Saturday December 9, 2017.

Arpan Lobo

Grand Valley State University saw another class of students become Lakers for a lifetime.

On Saturday, Dec. 9, GVSU held its commencement ceremony for the fall 2017 semester at that Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids. More than 1,000 students received either their bachelor’s or graduate degrees. Gayle Davis, former provost of GVSU, received an honorary degree for her contributions to the university.

The opening reflection was made by Robert Stevenson, adjunct instructor for the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies. Stevenson reminded graduates of the journey they had taken to reach commencement, as well as the journey they were embarking on as Laker alumni.

“You’ll be leaving behind an institution that has dedicated itself for your success,” he said.  Stevenson also told graduates that their status of degree-receiving alumni isn’t something all-too-common.

“You are about to enter a very elite group of people,” he said, stating that only 21 percent of Americans have received at least a bachelor’s degree.

When Stevenson concluded his opening remarks, university President Thomas Haas addressed the graduates, reflecting not only on their accomplishments, but also on their duties as alumni.

“Leadership must, first and foremost, meet the needs of others,” Haas said, quoting the late Robert K. Greenleaf. “He warns us, don’t assume because you are intelligent, able, well-motivated that you are open to communication since you know how to listen.

“The fact you are here today, ready to cross this stage, we know you are intelligent, well-motivated, but we are counting on you to listen and lead in the service of others.” 

Haas, like Stevenson, told graduates that their careers and professional lives were only just beginning. 

“This is a day when your dreams are realized,” he said. “This is, after all, a commencement, not an ending. But it’s also a day when you embark on those new dreams, and those dreams, if worthwhile, will again require extraordinary effort as it was to get you here today.”

Davis, former GVSU provost and executive vice president for academic and student affairs (2002-2017), served as the commencement speaker. In her time at GVSU, Davis was integral in maintaining university academic operations while the university saw unprecedented growth in enrollment. She also received in honorary doctoral degree in education.

In her address to the graduates, Davis encouraged graduates to continue personal growth as they progress through their professional lives.

“Some social sciences (and) academics loosely define getting a college degree as entrance into a liminal stage of life,” she said. “The word liminal comes from the Latin-root word meaning threshold. If you are standing on an actual threshold in a house, you are neither in one room nor another. 

“Just so, if you’ve started college but you haven’t fulfilled its degree requirements yet, you’re in an intermediate stage between your former educational status and that which you seek in completing a new degree. The concept is that during this in-between stage, the more thoroughly one disengages from both comfort and the distractions of the familiar, the greater the likelihood that you will make more space for transformational thoughts, insights, discoveries and growth.

“So now you’re about to finish your degrees. As we proceed through our graduation ceremony and you walk across the stage to the president, you will symbolically emerge from your educational liminality, cross your educational threshold. You will be ready for life’s next thing.”

The final distinguished honoree of the ceremony was Carolyn Ulstad, recipient of the Young Alumni Award, presented by the GVSU Alumni Association.

Ulstad, a 2011 graduate from GVSU in geography in planning, was recognized for her work with the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council. With the MACC, Ulstad has overseen the quality of roads in the area and supported the Macatawa Watershed Project, designed to reduce the amount of phosphorus that enters Lake Macatawa.