Commencement stories: The resilience, the decisions and the connections that propelled these Lakers to earning their degrees

The stories behind the Lakers earning their degrees and celebrating Commencement this week highlight the dedication it takes to reach such an achievement. Here are a few of those stories.

Graduate overcomes homeland's civil war, political unrest to earn degree

A person wearing a cap and gown has their arms in the air. The words Grand Valley State are visible in the background.
Haak Betiem is earning a graduate degree in health administration.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills

Haak Betiem gently cradles his iPhone in his fingers, proudly showing a family photo from 2017. It’s hard to miss the beaded bracelet stylized like the flag of his home nation, South Sudan, adorning his right wrist. 

In the image, Betiem poses with his sisters — a group of young people who have escaped atrocities and hardship to find sanctuary at a United Nations camp for internally displaced people — as they bid him farewell on his journey to America. 

A journey that stretched more than 7,300 miles across two continents and an ocean reaches an important milestone on December 10.

Read more about Betiem's Laker story.

Commencement student speaker hopes to inspire 2022 graduates to say 'yes,' inspire positive change

A student wearing a cap and gown smiles while standing in front of a stairway.
Jared J. Blauwkamp is earning a degree in exercise science.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills

For Jared J. Blauwkamp, the path to becoming student speaker at Grand Valley’s fall 2022 Commencement was free of any grandeur. Rather, he says, it was a path of saying "yes" to many mundane daily decisions. 

“A simple yes can change the course of history,” Blauwkamp said. “We don’t find a lot of joy in the mundane. When you zero in on one decision you’re making, you might ask, 'What impact am I really having?' But down the road, you will see the impact of that decision on your life.” 

This is the inspiration he plans to bring to his fellow graduates when he takes the stage at Van Andel Arena on December 10.

Read more about Blauwkamp's Laker story.

Graduate set eyes on nursing career early with focus to help community

A person wearing a cap and gown smiles while standing on a staircase in front of windows with buildings in the background.
Alejandra Salinas is earning a degree in nursing.
Image Credit: Amanda Pitts

When Alejandra Salinas was young, she did not see a lot of nurses who looked like her. During high school, she made a commitment to herself to pursue that career and help her Hispanic community.

Salinas will earn a bachelor's degree in nursing in December, and be the first in her family to earn a college degree. As the oldest of three children, much of Salinas's childhood was spent translating English to Spanish for her parents.

"My parents do not speak much English, so when they've had appointments, I've translated for them," Salinas said. "I also want to help my Hispanic community and give back to them."

Read more about Salinas' Laker story.