April 26, 2019 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Grand Rapids Community College surprised Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal by naming her its 2019 Distinguished Alumna during the 102nd commencement on Friday.
Neal also was the event’s keynote speaker. Nearly 1,500 students will earn GRCC degrees this year.
“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. “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.”
Neal, who retires from GRPS this year, earned an Associate of Arts from what was then Grand Rapids Junior College before earning a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Grand Valley State University, a master’s degree 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.
She has been with Grand Rapids Public Schools 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 the success of the GRPS Transformation Plan, which is increasing graduation rates and reducing chronic absenteeism. The effort includes comprehensive professional development focused on equity and inclusion, innovative new school choices and building community partnerships. Under Neal’s leadership, GRPS enrollment increased for the first time in 20 years.
Neal told how she graduated Creston High 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.”
Neal said learned how to find courage and dedication, and told graduates their degrees will come with great responsibility.
“For you, leadership is needed at this time. It doesn’t matter whether you take leadership roles in our city, our state or across this nation, you’ve been prepared for it. You need to find your passion. Speak for people who cannot speak for themselves until they find their voice. When it is your turn to stand in the gap, don’t shy away from it.”
In addition to the Distinguished Alumna Award, Laurie Foster, retired professor in the Biological Sciences Department, was named Faculty Emeritus during tonight’s commencement.
Foster spent her entire career teaching, at all levels and through all methods. She has taught elementary and middle school students, high schoolers, college students, teachers and her fellow faculty members in the classroom, out of the classroom and online.
Her skills in the classroom have been recognized at the college, state, and national levels. Foster also developed four scholarships to help the next generations of students.
Grand Rapids Community College has been offering educational opportunities in West Michigan for more than 100 years. Established in 1914, the college offers degree courses, certification and training programs, and workshops and personal enrichment classes. Offerings are held on GRCC’s downtown Grand Rapids campus, and at several locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties, as well as through distance learning.