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My story started at GRCC: Teresa Weatherall Neal says through GRCC, 'What I thought was impossible became my reality'

Nov. 16, 2020 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Start at Grand Rapids Community College and go anywhere! Every former student has a story to tell about how GRCC – or Grand Rapids Junior College – gave them the education and opportunity to be successful. We’re sharing some of those stories, and want to hear yours!

Teresa Weatherall Neal helped thousands of Grand Rapids children during her career in education, and said her time at what was then Grand Rapids Junior College “lit a fire in me.” 

As Grand Rapids Public Schools superintendent, Neal set in place a GRPS Transformation Plan credited with increasing graduation rates and reducing chronic absenteeism. Since retiring from the district in 2019, Neal has served as chairperson of the Grand Rapids Promise Zone Authority, which removes cost as a barrier to higher education for city students.

Neal was named a GRCC Distinguished Alumna at commencement in 2019, and told graduates how she earned a Creston High diploma in 1977, married and got a job – and was encouraged by her sister to continue her education at GRJC. She credits the faculty and staff for supporting her.

“I had so many fears that paralyzed me and stopped me from moving forward,” she said. “But I realized I could do it. It lit a fire in me. And I was now on the journey and the road to change. It was ignited right here at Grand Rapids Community College. I was inspired. What I thought was impossible became my reality.”

She earned an Associate of Arts at GRJC before earning a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Grand Valley State University, a master’s in educational leadership from Western Michigan University, and an honorary doctorate from GVSU. She is also a graduate of the Michigan Leadership Institute’s Superintendent Leadership Academy.

Neal had been with GRPS since she was 4 years old, first as a K-12 student and then as a student worker, administrative assistant, coordinator of compliance, and assistant superintendent before rising to the role of superintendent in 2012.

Neal and the district gained state and national attention for efforts that included comprehensive professional development focused on equity and inclusion, innovative new school choices, and building community partnerships. Under her leadership, GRPS enrollment increased for the first time in 20 years.

“Teresa Weatherall Neal’s journey to becoming the inspiring leader she is today started with GRPS and Grand Rapids Junior College,” President Bill Pink said when he presented her with the Distinguished Alumna Award. “She is a role model for everyone graduating today and into the future. She is the perfect example of the impact a person can have on a community, and how a community college degree can provide the foundation for doing tremendous things.”