From a tent to an arena

By Carly Simpson | 5/3/14 5:16pm


GVL / Hannah Mico
A group of graduating seniors wait in line, eager to officially graduate and recieve their diploma. The ceremony was held in Downtown Grand Rapids, at Van Andel Arena.

The first commencement at Grand Valley State University on June 18,1967 was held in a tent on the Allendale Campus. The university handed out 138 diplomas that afternoon. Fast forward to April 26, 2014 as families and friends are filling the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids while nearly 2,900 GVSU students participate in commencement ceremonies.

“Grand Valley is different from when you began your studies and you are also not the same as when you started here,” said President Thomas Haas during the afternoon ceremonies. “Indeed, what you have found within during your time at Grand Valley cannot be used to a greater good than for you to go out into the world. Your families will benefit, your communities will benefit, your future employers will benefit.”

This semester’s graduates will join a network of over 95,000 GVSU alumni living and working around the world.

“Thousands of you are becoming alumni at Grand Valley State University, Lakers for a Lifetime, and we are celebrating your ambition, your tenacity, your goal setting and the successes that put you in this place of honor,” Haas said.

Naana Jane Sam Opoku-Agyemang, minister for education in Ghana, was the afternoon’s guest speaker. Opoku-Agyemang is the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast making her the first woman to assume that position at a state university in Ghana.

Opoku-Agyemang shared with graduates her vision for the world to be built upon six pillars of justice, respect, tolerance, moderation, generosity and impartiality.

“As you walk away from this institution, walk classically, walk with grace,” she said. “Walk with gratitude, determined not to forget those that brought you this far, and especially to remember at all times those who have not had it so good. Even as you thought you were hungry, there were others much worse. Walk resolved to make a difference in the lives of persons who have no way of ever paying you back.”

The morning’s speaker, Lawrence J. Korb, is a senior fellow at American Progress, a nonpartisan education and advocacy organization dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through ideas and action. He has served as assistant secretary of defense and dean of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at University of Pittsburg.

During the ceremonies, the Alumni Association presented its Distinguished Alumni Award to Kathleen Vogelsang, director and chief investment officer for Van Andel Institute, and its Outstanding Educator Award to Asli Y. Akbulut, associate professor of information systems in the management department in the Seidman College of Business.

Victor Cardenas, vice president of GVSU’s Alumni Association Board of Directors, presented the awards and also asked graduates to always remember the university and the people who have helped them along the way.

“As Lakers for a Lifetime, we stay connected so when you leave here today remember to stay tied to your Grand Valley roots,” he said.

Also during the ceremonies, honorary degrees were awarded to John C. Canepa and William Lieberman. Canepa, a member of GVSU’s advisory cabinet, retired as consulting principal for Crowe Horwath LLP. Lieberman, graduated from GVSU in 1979. He is now the owner and director of Zolla/Lieberman Gallery in Chicago’s River North contemporary art district and has donated more than 50 pieces of his artwork to GVSU.

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