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FORUM Vol. 41, No. 29; April 24, 2017

Grand Valley to celebrate new graduates this weekend

More than 3,000 students will participate in commencement ceremonies April 28-29 at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids.

For the first time, commencement has expanded to three ceremonies to improve the overall experience for graduates and their families. The first ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. on Friday; second and third ceremonies will take place at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday. 

Shelley Padnos

Shelley Padnos

Shelley Padnos, chair of the executive committee of Louis Padnos Iron and Metal Company, is the speaker for the Friday ceremony. On Saturday, Sean Patrick Welsh, executive vice president and regional president for PNC Bank, is the morning speaker, and Erion Veliaj, Grand Valley alumnus and mayor of Tirana, Albania, is the afternoon speaker. 

Padnos is among the third generation of family members overseeing Louis Padnos Iron and Metal Company. She was appointed to serve on the National Advisory Council on Environmental Policy and Technology, Superfund Subcommittee under the Clinton administration. She has served on numerous boards, including Grand Valley's Board of Trustees from 2007-2014. 

Sean Patrick Welsh

Sean Patrick Welsh

Welsh began his banking career in 1986 and has held several vice president positions in finance, corporate banking and investment real estate. He serves on boards for The Right Place, Spectrum Health Systems, Grand Valley University Foundation, among others. 

Veliaj was elected mayor of Tirana in 2015 and has been involved in Albania's political system since 2003 when he founded MJAFT!, which raises awareness for diverse social and political issues in Albania. He has worked for several international humanitarian organizations in the Americas, Eastern Africa and Kosovo. He earned a degree in political science from Grand Valley in 2012. 

The Alumni Association will present its Distinguished Alumni Award to Eglantina Gjermeni, ’98, minister of urban development for the Republic of Albania. Gjermeni earned a master’s degree in social work from Grand Valley in 1998. She is a dedicated social researcher and lecturer, and successfully led the Gender Alliance for Development Center for 10 years. 

The Outstanding Educator Award will be presented to Sheryl Vlietstra, affiliate professor of education. She helped establish the Michigan Literacy Project, which provides funds to recent Grand Valley graduates who are teaching in underserved Michigan school districts. She has raised more than $32,000 to help grow the program. 

Erion Veliaj

Erion Veliaj

Gary Verplank, Ellen Thompson and Nancy Mulnix Tweddale will receive honorary degrees. Verplank, chair and CEO of Shape Corp., is a member of the Grand Valley University Foundation Advisory Cabinet and served as a committee member for two university lakeshore campaigns. Thompson began her career as an elementary school teacher and founded the Thompson Foundation with her husband, Bob. The foundation has funded thousands of K-12 and college students through scholarships. Mulnix Tweddale, ’95, is a retired medical psychologist and has chaired the Grand Rapids Arts Festival. She was vice president of Grand Valley Colleges Foundation from 1970-1974 and chair from 1974-1980. 

The April 28 ceremony will include the following colleges: Seidman College of Business, College of Community and Public Service and Padnos College of Engineering and Computing. The morning ceremony on April 29 will include College of Health Professions, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Kirkhof College of Nursing. The afternoon ceremony on April 29 will include College of Education, Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

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