GVSU celebrates 50th anniversary of first commencement

Kayla Tucker

More than 3,000 Grand Valley State University students became alumni this weekend after three commencement ceremonies were held at Van Andel Arena Friday, April 28, and Saturday, April 29.

After taking a selfie with the graduating class, GVSU President Thomas Haas told the crowd this summer would mark the 50th anniversary of the first graduating class that received its degrees in 1967 in Allendale, Michigan.

“After that ceremony in 1967, we had 138 alumni,” Haas said at the 3 p.m. ceremony Saturday. “After this year’s ceremony, we will have over 110,000 alumni here in West Michigan and across the globe.”

Haas told the graduates that the day was devoted to celebrating all their accomplishments.

“Grand Valley is, or was, never the place ever where you were to rest or stop,” he said. “Grand Valley’s ideally the place that propels you higher and farther to places you’ll likely have never even imagined today.”

The keynote speaker for the event was GVSU alumnus Erion Veliaj, current mayor of Tirana, the capital of Albania. Veliaj graduated from GVSU in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. In his introductions, Haas described Veliaj as the “embodiment of the Laker effect.”

“It’s not about being the best—it’s about doing your best,” Veliaj told the graduates, giving some of his own life advice. “The majority of our generation does not think it’s all about the money because it isn’t. If I had one recommendation, if I was your counselor today, it would be don’t invest in money—invest in people.”

GVSU graduate Elaina Earl received her bachelor’s degree Saturday, having majored in psychology and minored in sociology.

“I really enjoyed the class sizes and the very personal experience I got with a lot of my professors,” Earl said. “Next, I’m going to be taking a year off, and then after that, I’m going to get a double master’s in social work and counseling.”

New GVSU alumnus Mason Mathis, who graduated with a degree in French civilization and linguistics, said he appreciated his French professors and enjoyed working in the Language Resource Center while he attended GVSU.

“I worked at the Language Resource Center in Mackinac, and I made a lot of really good friends there, especially in the modern languages and literature department,” he said.

Mathis walked across the stage wearing cords from the French Honor Society and from studying abroad in France, which he did last semester.

“It was the coolest experience I’ve ever had in my entire life,” Mathis said. “(GVSU) was worthwhile. I enjoyed my classes; I enjoyed my teachers very much so. The French faculty specifically are probably some of the first-rate people I’ve ever met.”

As part of the ceremony, GVSU alumna Nancy Mulnix Tweddale also received an honorary doctorate in arts, and Sheryl Vlietstra, affiliate professor of elementary teacher education at GVSU, received the Outstanding Educator Award.

The event also featured musical performances from GVSU students Casey Huls and Austin Schippers.