April 30, 2021, GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Grand Rapids Community College is celebrating the graduation of nearly 500 students and the lives of three alumni who made an impact in West Michigan and around the world in ceremonies on Friday and Saturday.
Following strict health and safety protocols, GRCC offered an in-person commencement experience to students, with families able to follow along online.
School of Arts and Sciences graduates were celebrated on Friday, and School of Workforce Development ceremonies are planned for 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 1.
GRCC President Bill Pink challenged graduates to put to use the credentials and skills they’ve just earned, whether they continue their education or start on a career.
“Do not just take this degree and let it sit on a shelf. That’s not what you got it for,” he said. “You can take what you have learned, and you can determine what is your ‘next.’ You can take this degree, and you make sure you make that ‘next’ count for you, for your family, for this community."
Pink pointed to three alumni honored during the ceremonies who used GRCC degrees as foundations for a life that helped others.
Wyoming Public Schools Superintendent Craig Hoekstra delivered a recorded keynote address. Hoekstra was a nontraditional student while attending GRCC, working as a custodian in the Wyoming schools while taking classes.
He started teaching after graduating from Grand Valley State University, rising through the administrative ranks to become the district’s superintendent in 2018.
The life and legacy of the late Sekou Smith was celebrated with the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award. Smith, a 1992 graduate is as remembered as much for his work as a mentor and leader as he is for his career covering basketball for newspapers and NBA.com.
A video tribute included messages from sister Misti Smith Stanton – also a GRCC graduate – and the Atlanta Hawks basketball team, which is providing educational opportunities for student journalists in Smith’s name.
Retired chemistry professor Sandra Andrews was presented with the 2021 Faculty Emeritus honor. Andrews started taking classes at what was then Grand Rapids Junior College while still in high school, and became a highly respected instructor and faculty leader. And, she’s still taking classes, showing her commitment to lifelong learning.
It’s GRCC’s first in-person commencement since 2019, the ceremony was conducted virtually last August because of the pandemic.