GRCC graduates told to ‘play big’ in whatever they do in life after commencement

Grand Rapids Community College graduates must “play big” in whatever they do in life, GRCC President Bill Pink told graduates at commencement ceremonies on Friday.

The college celebrated the graduation of about 450 students spread out over two Friday ceremonies to allow for distancing. The events were the college’s first commencements with both students and spectators since 2019.

Pink in his closing remarks shared a story from when he coached basketball, where players were told to strive to give their all and do big things.

“I need each of you to play big,” he said. “I need you, in your career after this, and whatever your ‘next’ is, I need to have you playing big. Because you are not just our future, you are our now. We’re in a society today where I need to have you playing big. Because you are the future of West Michigan, and the future of this great city. Because you need to do better than any of us have ever done. You will blow us away with what you do in this world. Playing small does not help us.”

Birgit M. Klohs, recently retired as president and CEO of The Right Place, provided the keynote address at each ceremony.

Klohs has spent more than four decades working to enhance economic development in West Michigan. Under her leadership, The Right Place Inc. created or retained more than 50,000 jobs and stimulated more than $5 billion in new investment. Among the projects she worked on were the opening of Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine and the creation of the Manufacturers Council.

Since stepping down from The Right Place in 2021, Klohs has served as a director for the New Community Transformation Fund, a venture fund she co-founded for entrepreneurs of color.

“There is a thread that goes through my story, and that thread is education,” she told graduates. “It is the key to my success, and my journey. And it will be the key to your success and your journey. What you are getting today, with that diploma, they are giving you a key. They are giving you a key to a room you would never enter if you did not have that diploma. What you do with that key, and that room is up to you.”

Paul Krieger, a biology professor who retired in 2019, was honored with the 2022 Faculty Emeritus honor.

Before starting at GRCC in 1991, Krieger taught at high schools in Beijing and Jackson, Mich. During his teaching career, he wrote and illustrated the four-book Visual Analogy Guides series, which cover anatomy, physiology and chemistry.

Loyd Winer, an acclaimed civil engineer, was presented with the Distinguished Alumni Award.  His engineering work took him across the United States and many countries. One of his most memorable projects was designing the original runways and taxiways for Gerald R. Ford International Airport – he still checks up on them from the public viewing area once or twice a week.

The ceremonies were the first to celebrate a large group of students who attended GRCC through the Grand Rapids Promise Zone. There were 15 Promise Zone students getting degrees on Friday, and 20 students have graduated through the program so far.

Started in 2020, the Grand Rapids Promise Zone is a “last-dollar” scholarship that covers up to 60 credit hours, including the costs of tuition, books, required course materials and any required fees associated with attending GRCC.

The ceremonies were the last at GRCC for Pink, who will become the president of Ferris State University this summer. But they were the first in two years with boisterous and celebrating families. The 2020 commencement was conducted virtually due to the pandemic, and the 2021 ceremonies were held with students present but without spectators, and the event spread out over four sessions.

Photo by Steve Jessmore.

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