First large class of Grand Rapids Promise Zone graduates from the GRCC course, celebrated program

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Grand Rapids Promise Zone students were among 450 Grand Rapids Community College students graduating Friday at Ford Fieldhouse.

Fifteen students, who attended the tuition-free college with a scholarship from the promised area, received their diplomas on Friday, April 29. A total of 20 students have graduated since the start of the scholarship program in 2020.

On Thursday, before their big day, some students joined GRCC officials and faculty, community leaders and Grand Rapids Promise Area board members for a reception at Ender Hall to celebrate their achievement and the program. The scholarship gives students the opportunity to earn full degrees, certificates, and professional training programs.

Related: Grand Rapids Promise Zone sends 251 students to GRCC tuition-free

“I remember some of the counselors saying this was a new program at CC,” said Olivia Boosamra, a graduate of Innovation Central High School at Grand Rapids Public Schools, who earned a BSc. Associate in Arts at the GRCC.

Boosamra now plans to attend Grand Valley State University to study either environmental sustainability or education.

The Grand Rapids Promise Zone Authority Board’s partnership with Grand Rapids Community College allows them to provide required tuition, books, fees, and course materials to qualified students.

“The celebration we have is the fact that we have charted this incredible path for our children,” said GRCC President Bill Pink. “We started this thing during the pandemic. What I appreciate about our Promise Zone Board is that the pandemic hasn’t stopped them from continuing to deliver on the vision.

Pink said we currently have a trillion dollar problem in our country when it comes to higher education debt.

The Promise Zone scholarship is open to any student graduating from one of the public, charter, or traditional private high schools within the city limits of Grand Rapids. There are currently more than 300 students participating, according to the GRCC.

Students who receive the scholarship have five years from graduation to use it, and it covers up to 60 credit hours at the GRCC while taking at least six credit hours per semester.

Related: First Grand Rapids Promise Zone grad says ‘everything just changed’ after college scholarship

Birgit Klohs, who recently retired as president and CEO of The Right Place, an economic development group, delivered the commencement address Friday at both graduation ceremonies.

“There is a thread that runs through my story, and that thread is education. This is the key to my success and my journey. And that will be the key to your success and your journey. What you get today, with this degree, they give you a key. They give you the key to a room you would never enter if you didn’t have that degree. What you do with that key, and that coin is up to you,” Klohs said, according to the GRCC.

The graduation ceremonies were the first in two years in which families could celebrate together. The start of 2020 was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2021 ceremonies were held with students in attendance but no spectators. The event spanned four sessions.

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