Friday Grand Rapids Community College celebrated the accomplishments of nearly 500 graduates during the 101st commencement ceremony.
All of the eager graduates were excited about the next step.
Lori Easton, 62, of Grand Rapids, came to GRCC to help carry on her career at Cherry Health Clinic.
“I’m graduating with an Associate’s in graphics and web development,” she said. “It feels so great to be graduating.”
In addition to celebrating and honoring the students, the GRCC Board of Trustees awarded Fatima Nieves with the Emeritus Faculty Award, Juan Olivarez with the GRCC President Emeritus Award and Jane Doyle with the Distinguished Alumni Award.
Trustee Deb Bailey introduced Nieves, describing how kind and dedicated Nieves was to her students.
“Fatima Nieves continues to advocate for students even after her retirement,” Bailey said. “Even though she retired in 2015, she came back to help students reach the milestones that we celebrate so proudly today.”
Next, Board of Trustee Chairman David Kotjie presented Doyle with the Alumni Award.
Doyle attended Grand Rapids Junior College in 1940 and enrolled in engineering classes and the Grand Rapids Civilian Pilot Training Program. She later got a degree from the University of Michigan and continued flying with the Civil Air Patrol.
She soon became a member of an elite group of female pilots who transported equipment and other personnel. In 2010, she and her remaining pilots were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
“Junior College changed everything,” Doyle laughed. “I had planned on going into art, but (Congress) announced they were going to have a summer flying program… I thought that it was interesting and they said that they would let one girl in for every nine fellas. So, I passed a physical exam and got into the program.”
Doyle also gave advice to those struggling to reach their dreams.
“We never realized that women could advance that far and so many women have high positions now,” she said. “You can do anything you want. You just really want to do it, then you’ll find a way to do it.”
Olivarez was next to receive his award and present his keynote speech.
After becoming the GRCC President in 1999, Olivarez paved the way for success at the college. During his presidency, the Calkins Science Center opened along with both Michigan technological education centers and the Bob and Aleicia Woodrick Center for Equity and Inclusion.
During his speech, Olivarez presented three main points to the sea of graduates.
“Follow your passion, set high goals for yourself and believe that you can have an impact on anything you choose,” Olivarez said. “I hope that my story can be an inspiration to you, but I know that your stories can be an inspiration for each of you.”
During his speech, Olivarez called out students like Nicolas Tynes and congratulated them on their accomplishments.
“You had goals and dreams in front of you and this accomplishment in welding and cutting technologies is so significant in your journey, but you did it, and I hope your grandma and grandpa are here to see you walk the stage. I hear that their motivation and inspiration helped you reach your goals.”
After congratulating a few other students in the crowd, Olivarez left the students with one more piece of advice.
“Today, you are all commencing. That means, beginning, and who knows where life will take you,” Olivarez said. “I’ve learned to follow my heart as well as my head. Do what brings you joy and inspiration. Love what you do and don’t be afraid to venture into new directions if you don’t feel fulfilled. Have the courage to follow your path.”
Friday’s commencement also celebrated three students from Noorthoek Academy who received their honorary degrees. Noorthoek Academy provides a secondary education environment for students with special needs to receive the best education that will help them grow.
David Wolven, Katie Aubert and Leetrice Souza walked across the stage to receive their Associate’s of Arts degrees from GRCC President, Bill Pink.
“This is a true honor,” Pink said.
After all of the excited students walked across the stage, Pink closed the ceremony with a statement that would stay in the minds of everyone in the room.
“Many people in this country want to be the ones to decide what your narrative is,” he said. “Do not let anyone write your narrative for you, that’s your job, that’s what you do, that’s why you have that degree.”