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

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.

A person wearing a cap and gown smiles. The carillon is reflected off a building in the background.
'A simple yes can change the course of history,' Jared B. Blauwkamp said.

For the self-described bubbly, extroverted exercise science major, Blauwkamp views his faith, education and, now, the opportunity to speak to more than 1,300 graduates as platforms for him to inspire positive change, specifically regarding the mental health crisis facing his generation.

“I think we’re all aware of the mental state of our generation and the staggering statistics surrounding anxiety and depression. So many of my friends struggle with mental health. When I look at the problem as a whole, it makes me think that my life isn’t going to change anything, so why should I even try? 

"But when I look at the individual people — I’m able to brighten their day, give them a glimmer of hope," he said. "For those people, that’s everything for them. While I haven’t swayed the entire wave of statistics, for that individual person, that’s huge.”

This mindset has been modeled for Blauwkamp for as long as he can remember. He is heavily inspired by his father, who is in the early stages of creating a home for girls who have been rescued from sex trafficking. While some may argue that the concept is far too laborious relative to the number of people this project will help, Blauwkamp wholeheartedly believes that it is worth it. “We will never know the ripple effect that comes from these decisions,” Blauwkamp said.

A person wearing a cap and gown smiles while pumping fists into the air with the letters GVSU in the background.

Following graduation, Blauwkamp will begin working as a young adults pastor at his home church, Resurrection Life Church in Grandville. While he admits that this isn’t how he imagined he’d use his exercise science degree, in his mind, this is what his commencement message is all about: Choosing to say "yes." 

For an optimistic thinker like Blauwkamp, narrowing down his favorite memories from GVSU was a challenge. But he said each experience has given him the discipline, connections and skills necessary to make a difference wherever he goes. “While I cannot do everything, I refuse to do nothing,” he said.