Saying goodbye

Moments from Grand Valleys graduation ceremonies on Saturday, April 30, 2016.

Kevin Sielaff

Moments from Grand Valley’s graduation ceremonies on Saturday, April 30, 2016.

Hannah Lentz

Approximately 50 years ago, Grand Valley State University held its first commencement ceremony. At that ceremony, the stage and the number of graduates looked a lot different than today.

On April 30, more than 3,000 students participated in commencement ceremonies at Van Andel Arena. The event featured speeches from La June Montgomery Tabron (president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation) and George Heartwell, the former mayor of Grand Rapids.

Additionally, the Alumni Association presented its Distinguished Alumni award to Nkechy Ekere Ezeh (’92, ’93) an associate professor of education and director of the early childhood education program at Aquinas College. The Outstanding Educator Award was also presented to Greg Wolffe, professor of computer and information systems at GVSU.

Honorary degrees were also given out to Noreen Myers and Peter Renucci. Myer (’72) is a lawyer specializing in employment law and the first alumna to be appointed to GVSU’s Board of Trustees. Renucci is owner of E&R Investments and is a director of the GVSU University Foundation. He and Pat Renucci have funded scholarships and equipment to support student success.

The event also focused on looking back at accomplishments throughout the year and applying those successes to the future.

“What will you remember from this day, April 30, 2016, five, 10 or even 50 years from now?” said Sheldon Kopperl, biomedical sciences and liberal studies professor. “You may not remember that is was Mayor George Heartwell that addressed you at this ceremony. Even less so will you remember my words of reflection, but you will definitely remember the pride you took on a job well done and recognize how, on April 30 of 2016, you, as a Laker for life, connected with communities and contributed in your own, unique way to the Laker effect.”

This year’s commencement also focused on the roles that teaching professionals, family members and other prominent individuals play in a college graduate’s life.

“Look at all the people who have gathered with great happiness and anticipation,” said GVSU President Thomas Haas. “You see family, you see friends and our esteemed faculty and staff. At Grand Valley, we hear time and again how our faculty guide, mentor and change lives. We know that they are watching carefully for their students today. They recognize the talent and the tenacity that it took for most of you to reach this point.”

Haas also focused his speech on the future of graduates after they leave GVSU and whatever the next step may be.

“You might have a ready answer, maybe you have secured that great job or maybe you are planning to get another degree, or maybe you are still exploring, and that’s OK,” Haas said. “But what you have found, what you know is that you can dream, you can plan and you can succeed. With courage will come confidence, trust and vision, and eventually humility, compassion and fair play.”

The more than 3,000 students who received degrees following the winter semester will become a part of more than 100,000 GVSU alumni.

“When you stand at a place that you’ve never stood before, and the way forward isn’t entirely clear, but you know you have to chose a direction and then step out into it, that takes courage,” Heartwell said. “Right from the beginning, I say to you: have courage.”