Press release: Mother, son to go through GRCC commencement together


Leah Nixon

Director of Communications


April 30, 2013 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Grand Rapids Community College’s May 3 commencement will be a family affair for Gabrielle Vilella and her son, Nathan Sosa, as they each walk across the stage to receive their degrees.

Ms. Vilella, who will receive her associate degree in business, said college was put on the back burner after she married, took care of her blended family and entered the workforce – but she always planned to return to her studies some day.

“When the older children started college, I knew I had to go back and finish,” she said. “My father went back to school when he was in his late 30s and obtained his bachelor’s degree. Education was very important to him, and he wanted his children to go to college, also. He always said that no matter what happened in your life, no one could take away your education.”

She received support and encouragement from her husband, her supervisors at Spectrum Health, and from her fellow GRCC students.

“Some of the students I became friends with were first-time mothers, and many of them were nontraditional students like me,” she said. "College has provided me with the opportunity to not only increase my knowledge through my studies, but also to engage in conversation with diverse people that I would not have otherwise met.

“College gives you the chance to hear the different stories from your fellow students and the opportunity to see the world through their experiences.”

Ms. Vilella, administrative assistant to the chief, the chairman and the director of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health for the Spectrum Health Medical Group, said her degree will help her advance.

“When looking at the job opportunities today, I am finding that more and more are requiring at least an Associate Degree, so my hope is that this will open new avenues for my professional growth,” she said.

Mr. Sosa, Ms. Vilella’s youngest son, plans to continue his education at Michigan State University and is interested in teaching English overseas.

“We used to kid each other about the possibility of being in the same class,” Ms. Vilella said. “That never happened, but, fortunately, we will be walking together on graduation day.”

Grand Rapids Community College, established in 1914, offers opportunities for more than 30,000 students annually in degree courses, certification and training programs, workshops and personal enrichment classes. GRCC holds classes on the downtown Grand Rapids campus as well as several locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties.