12/09/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/09/2023 20:52
BY Sarah Dudinetz
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills & Ashley Cefali
On December 9, over 1,300 graduating Grand Valley students took the stage at Van Andel Arena and left as Lakers for a Lifetime.
"Some of you started at GVSU the same time I did," President Philomena V. Mantella noted as she welcomed graduates and their supporters. "Many of you were going through a big first: your first time in college. For me, I was in my first presidency, new to a region, and engulfed in a world full of turmoil at a time when no handbook on how to navigate that world existed."
Indeed, the unique challenges this graduating class faced because of the COVID-19 pandemic was a recurring theme during the ceremony's remarks.
The ceremony's student speaker, Megan Smith, shared with her fellow graduates a message of comfort and inspiration, regardless of what emotions they may be experiencing.
Smith's speech was inspired by witnessing her friends' diverse experiences post graduation.
"They're all in different spots," she noted. "It's important to address that there will be people who graduate that have zero clue what is next for them. I want graduates to know that whether you know what's next or you don't, you are still a part of this family."
Smith's message was especially impactful for the class of 2023, whose college experience was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Three years ago, her own father was admitted to the ICU with COVID. Her family, not allowed to visit at the time, was advised to send him videos to say goodbye.
"I was living in the newfound freedom of college when I got a phone call that no one wants to receive," Smith recalled in her address. "My dad was sick with COVID and was moved to the ICU. They didn't know if he would make it through the night. Today, I am proud to share that my dad is in this room both watching me give this speech as a surprise."
Shannon Cohen, '00 and '11, was the ceremony's guest speaker. As an entrepreneur, Cohen advised the newest class of Laker alumni to have the mindset of a seed.
"I think about fellow Lakers I graduated with or have met over the years. The ones who have gone on to be dynamic difference makers in their families, industries, and communities are the ones who live as seeds," Cohen said, "It's a mindset that says: Every place I am planted elevates because I am there. Every environment I step into evolves because I am there. Every life that I encounter levels up because I am in it."
The conferring of degrees was led by Mantella and Fatma Mili, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs. Graduates then moved their tassels and were dismissed as official members of the Fall Class of 2023.