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GRCC salutes graduates for facing adversity with innovation and creativity during virtual Commencement

Aug. 1, 2020 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Grand Rapids Community College celebrated its 103rd Commencement unlike any of the ceremonies that preceded it, noting how students overcame tremendous challenges in the face of a global pandemic and will emerge stronger for it.

The college recognized the graduation of about 1,500 students through a virtual ceremony, with President Bill Pink and other campus leaders conferring degrees through an event streamed live online.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, GRCC determined a virtual ceremony was the best way to honor and celebrate students and their success while allowing as many people as possible to safely participate.

Pink spoke from a stage in Gerald R. Ford Fieldhouse before about 400 empty chairs to represent students.  

“It matters how we react when we are in adverse, challenging conditions,” he said.

“What we have been going through these last four or five months has definitely been adversity. Sometimes adversity can truly paralyze you. You’re not sure what to do so you don’t do anything at all. Or, you can choose to innovate. To be creative. To figure out what do I do with this and how can I innovate and not only survive but truly thrive. How do I get past this? How do I still get it done? Survival means you made it. Thriving means you continue to go.”

Like colleges across the nation, GRCC transitioned to remote learning in March because of the pandemic. The college plans to offer classes in four formats during the upcoming fall semester.

“You showed resilience to adapt to the new learning procedures, from classroom instruction to online learning,” trustee Cynthia Bristol said. “You showed stamina to stay with your classes and finish all of your requirements. Both attributes are assets that brought you to this point and will continue to guide your success.”

Professor Duane Davis, recognized for putting his musical stamp on students and the West Michigan Arts community, was awarded Emeritus Faculty status.

Davis served as a faculty member in the Music Department for 26 years, working with students in the classroom and serving as GRCC’s director of choral and vocal activities. Under his tenure, the Shades of Blue vocal ensemble received national and international recognition, and the College Choir performed at the prestigious Carnegie Hall.

Dr. Nkechy Ezeh was named 2020 Distinguished Alumnus. She GRCC “opened the door” for her to embark on a career of advocating for children and training educators around the world, especially those working to help families overcome the effects of poverty.

Ezeh assists schools and nonprofit agencies as an education consultant, providing curriculum and evaluation expertise. She conducts professional development and parent education workshops all over the world.

Both were saluted with video tributes during the ceremony.

The ceremony is able to be viewed on Facebook here: and on YouTube here:

A downloadable version of the Commencement program is available at

Grand Rapids Community College offers learners of all ages opportunities to gain credits for degrees or transfer and in-demand career skills leading to rewarding careers. GRCC was established in 1914 — Michigan’s first community college — and offers affordable classes on weekdays, evenings, Saturdays and online at locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties.

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