The Grand Rapids Community College campus was filled with an air of excitement as graduates waited in anticipation to receive their diplomas Friday. As they waited in line, soon-to-be alumni reflected on their time at GRCC and looked ahead to the future.
One graduate, Kaitlyn Zittel, 21, of Grand Rapids, plans to tour full-time and to focus on her music. With future plans in place, Zittel talked about her night and how she was feeling.
“I feel good, hungry and excited,” Zittel said. “It is wonderful and rewarding. I didn’t ever have a bad teacher. There is such an emphasis on community here. It was fun to see some fellow students and to see each other’s successes, it’s a community of us instead of I.”
Kimberly Patulski, 25, of Manistee, plans to get her bachelor’s in psychology at Grand Valley State University. A bit nervous, Patulski said that she was hoping to not trip and fall on stage. She talked about her experience at GRCC.
“It has been wonderful,” Patulski said. “It put me right on track.”
Another graduate, Anastasia Barnes, 20, of Lowell, mirrored Patulski’s sentiments. Barnes decided to go into early childhood and much of her time at GRCC was spent at the Learning Laboratory.
“It has been amazing,” Barnes said. “GRCC has given me an opportunity to work and get hands on experience. I am really excited. This (graduation) is one thing I have really been looking forward to. Knowing that everyone is proud is a really good feeling.”
Two students, Kennia Cifuentes, 19, of Grand Rapids and Amina Eliamin, from Egypt, emphasized their thankfulness for TRIO and its staff, specifically program adviser Anna Maria Clark and Director of TRIO Victoria (Vicky) Powers.
“I want the TRIO team to know how much we appreciate them,” Eliamin said. “I never thought of applying to (the University of Michigan), I never thought I qualified, TRIO gave me confidence, and I am very thankful. I am really excited about tonight. It’s kinda bittersweet because I’m leaving everything I know and moving to Ann Arbor. I will still visit a lot though.”
Her fellow graduate and TRIO member, Kennia Cifuentes, was one of the recipients of the Cesar E. Chavez Scholarship and was also appreciative of the organization and the college.
“GRCC brought many opportunities, ”Cifuentes said. “Joining TRIO has been amazing, they helped me get into Michigan State. I never thought I could before.”
Kaitlyn Bernatowicz, 18, of Wyoming, is going on to Michigan State to attain a bachelor’s in music business. She benefited from the middle college program in place at GRCC.
“I am grateful that my high school and college gave me the opportunity to graduate at 18, not many get that,” Bernatowicz said. “The transition was really easy and the professors were very nice.”
Her friend, Caitlyn Bulthuis, 18, of Wyoming is headed to GVSU to attain a bachelor’s in order to pursue a career in the acting/film arena. She’s hoping that after “1,000s of auditions” she will land a job in that field. She had mixed feelings about the night’s events.
“I am excited, but also sad,” Bulthuis said. “My time at (GRCC) is done, it goes so fast. I loved it here,.It was a great time. I made friendships for life.”
While the graduates were reminiscing a cheer ran through the crowd and the line began to move, the ceremony was about to begin. The ceremony included bagpipes, the GRCC band and concert choir, student flag bearers, tributes and awards.
Laurie Foster, who has been working at GRCC for 25 years in the Biological Sciences Department, received the faculty Emeritus award. Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal was surprised with the Distinguished Alumni Recognition award. During her speech she encouraged students to utilize their degrees and their time.
“Find your passion and speak for those that can’t speak for themselves,” Neal said. “When you don’t have a plan reflect, think and put degree to action. Don’t stand on the sidelines. Anything you want to do,you have it within you.”
After enthused graduates walked on stage and accepted their diplomas while proud family and friends cheered them on, GRCC President Bill Pink had a few words of encouragement.
“No one is going to write that narrative for you,” Pink said. “You are now one of ours, part of the GRCC family. Tell people the value of your degree and if they have a problem with it, send them to me.”
When the speech was over, professors filed out and lined up down Lyon Street, forming a tunnel for the graduates to walk through. As the new alumni proudly walked down the road, the faculty cheered and clapped. Some graduates walked to a few professors, where they shared handshakes, hugs or words of encouragement. The newly graduated group then mingled with family and friends, taking pictures and discussing future plans.
J.D. Marsiglia, 26, of Kentwood, is a U.S. veteran who decided to return to school eight years after he had graduated high school and encourages other veterans to take advantage of the G.I. Bill. He is going on to obtain a business degree, specifically in marketing.
“It’s been great, the staff is great,” Marsiglia said. “They make you feel welcome.I appreciate GRCC.”
Benjamin Colt, 21, of Manistee, MI, also plans to focus on his music when he moves back up-north. But he also had some thoughts on the night’s events and his experience at GRCC.
“Everything has been fantastic,” Colt said. “There is a stigma around community colleges, and I have been blown away by GRCC. I am ready to take on the world. I have really enjoyed my time, made lots of great friends.”
With giant smiles on their faces, an appreciation for their past accomplishments and a passion to fulfill their dreams the graduating class of 2019 started a new chapter of their lives.