My Story Started at GRCC: Stephanie Thomas thought she was too old to run cross country, then set GRCC record

Stephanie Thomas smiling.

Start at GRCC and go anywhere. Every former student has a story to tell about how GRCC gave them the education and opportunity to be successful. 

At 27, Stephanie Thomas thought she was too old.

Too old for college. Too old for a rewarding career. And most certainly too old to become a cross-country All-American at Grand Rapids Community College.

“But GRCC really taught me that you never know what gifts you have until someone inspires you to go for it,” said Thomas, who earned an associate degree in Criminal Justice at GRCC in 2018.

Now 31, Thomas is finishing work on a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Grand Valley State University. Already working at Gerald R. Ford International Airport as a TSA officer, she hopes to one day advance to the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, Customs or another of the 22 agencies housed within the Department of Homeland Security.

It’s a whole new world for Thomas, who tried other colleges after graduating in 2008 from Grand Rapids Christian High School. But they never clicked for her.

Years later, her fiancé, Derrick Diepenhorst, convinced Thomas to give GRCC a try.

“He told me that because I’m half Native American, tuition would be waived at any public community college or university in Michigan,” Thomas said. “But I was already 25 years old and I didn’t want to be surrounded by a bunch of young kids and feel like the odd one out.”

Nevertheless, she enrolled at GRCC and soon fell in love with her Criminal Justice courses. Although Thomas only played sports a little bit in middle school, she decided to try running as a way to get into better shape.

Little did she imagine how good she’d be.

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