At Grand Valley State University, students are encouraged to explore a multitude of interests and passions. This is particularly true with a heavily-emphasized liberal education. While all students who walk across the stage at GVSU receive a degree, one of the greatest things they can find during their time here is a love for their intended careers.

Firefighter and GVSU alumnus Richard Wheeler truly embodied that goal. A fourth-generation firefighter, Wheeler lost his life serving the public and, in turn, doing his Laker family proud.

During the massive wildfires in Washington, Wheeler was one of three firefighters who lost their lives. These firefighters were a small part of the brave thousands that have elected to leave home and try to help tame the fires taking over the state of Washington. Even international firefighters have responded to the call for help put out by the western United States. We are so proud to have had a Laker join in on the efforts to tame the flames.

Professors and numerous community members have come together to remember and honor the life of Wheeler. Thousands attended a memorial service held in Washington on Aug. 30, which showcased the camaraderie among the firefighting community.

In response to this, GVSU is funding the 2015-2016 full tuition Wheeler scholarship to be awarded to a student dependent of a fallen first responder. The scholarship will memorialize the bravery that all first responders demonstrate.

Wheeler’s death is taken very seriously by the GVSU community and the Lanthorn staff. We want to take this time to recognize the students whose career paths take them into dangerous situations such as those in Washington. While we mourn the loss of our fellow Laker for a lifetime, a student couldn’t have better exemplified the values of GVSU – the dedication, the passion for service and the leadership that Wheeler exhibited. We are proud to have an alumnus like Wheeler and we extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends.

According to Wheeler’s mother, Karen Morey, his passion for saving people from fires was an integral part of him.

“His father was a firefighter, his grandfather was a firefighter and his father before that,” his mother said. “It was in his blood and in his heart and he loved it. It was his passion, and he followed through with his passion every day.”

We should all be so lucky to follow through with our passions every day.

Whether GVSU students plan to be first responders or lawyers, educators or engineers, they should embody the lesson that Wheeler has left behind. No matter what someone is passionate about, they should ensure their passions become their careers.

We should all take a page out of Richard Wheeler’s short, but fulfilling life, and commit ourselves to careers and paths that truly excite and inspire us.