On a windy Friday in April, around 280 GRCC students gathered on Olivarez Plaza, holding onto their caps and waiting for the signal to process into the Ford Fieldhouse for GRCC’s 105th Commencement Ceremony.
Before the ceremony, students lined up outside the fieldhouse and reflected on their time at GRCC.
“I’m feeling excited. It’s just really bittersweet because it’s the first time I’ll be out of school since elementary school,” said Sarita Samora, 20, of Allendale. She is graduating with her associate’s degree in child development, currently works at a daycare, and eventually wants to go back to school to become a guidance counselor.
Ron Moore, 47, of Holland is graduating with his associate’s degree in general studies. “I just want to finish what I started. I had my credits for 20 years, I already have a business, I’m a photographer,” Moore said. “I’m really excited. I think it’s great to finish what you start and now I get to do all of that.”
Greg DeWitt, 27, of Grand Ledge, is another student graduating with his associate’s degree in general studies. “I’m kinda nervous, it took me awhile to graduate, it’s kinda fun to be back but also…nerve wracking,” DeWitt said. He plans to go back to school to study either computer science or astronomy.
When it was time to start the ceremony, the graduates were herded into two long lines to prepare for the procession. Meanwhile in the Ford Fieldhouse the ceremony began with a performance from the Muskegon Regional Police Pipes and Drums band.
Immediately afterward, the GRCC graduating class of 2022 processed in and took their seats. More than 400 graduates participated between the 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. ceremonies. President Bill Pink gave a brief welcome and introduction. He highlighted the fact that GRCC, founded in 1914, was Michigan’s first Junior college, with 49 students.
Anastasia Fiorenzo, a GRCC music student, sang the national anthem.
Provost Dr. Brian Knetl presented retired biology Professor Paul Krieger with the 2022 Faculty Emeritus Award. Krieger worked at GRCC for 28 years and retired from the college in 2019.
Pink presented the GRCC 2022 Distinguished Alumnus Award to Loyd Winer.
Winer graduated from GRCC in 1949. He designed the original runways and taxiways for the Gerald R. Ford International Airport and many other architectural engineering projects across the U.S. and numerous other countries.
“No matter where you are right now, whatever your desires are, you can do it. You just have to apply yourself and work hard. Sometimes it’s not easy,” said Loyd Winer, in the video tribute played during the ceremony.
Birgit M. Klohs was the keynote speaker, former President and CEO of The Right Place Inc., a regional non-profit economic development organization. She currently serves as director for the New Community Transformation Fund, which she co-founded for entrepreneurs of color.
“You’re getting a key today, a key to a room. Without that key, you wouldn’t even get into the room. How you furnish the room however, is up to you,” Klohs emphasized. “You’re going to have to be continuous learners. Be a lifelong learner. What’s critical today is that this is the beginning of your journey, not the end.”
After Pink explained the significance of the various cords and medallions that students were wearing, the graduates were presented with their diplomas. Families, friends, and faculty clapped, cheered, and pounded on the bleachers in celebration of the graduates.
Provost Brian Knetl asked the graduates to stand and Pink asked them to shift their tassels from the right to the left of their caps.
In his closing remarks, President Pink urged the graduates to “play big.”
“I need each of you to play big. I gotta have you playing big. Because you are our future. If you decide to play small…we don’t need that,” he asserted. “You have to do even better than what any of us have ever done.”
View the video of the commencement ceremony here.