Connor Pung receives a gift basket in his dorm room.

Make-A-Wish and Grand Valley cover tuition for new Laker & cancer survivor

After being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2022, Connor Pung was granted a wish from the Make-A-Wish® Foundation. Unlike many wish recipients, Connor chose not to use his on a trip or to meet his favorite celebrity. Instead, he wished to go to college. 

Make-A-Wish Michigan gifted Connor and his parents, Bruce and Amy Pung, with tuition assistance for his first year at Grand Valley. When university leaders learned about Connor and his wish, they offered a matching contribution, covering all his fees for the Fall semester. President Philomena V. Mantella announced the university’s matching contribution to the family over a virtual meeting on August 16. 

“This assistance is more than financial support,” said Mantella. “It’s emotional support; it is our confidence that helping you become empowered is going to help us as an institution, help the community and help your family, and that you’ll always pay it forward. So, it’s our privilege and pleasure to do this for you.” 

Connor Pung stands on stage holding a pile of GVSU clothing. Michael Hull stands next to him with a microphone, and two volunteers hold up a giant check and a GVSU Lakers flag.
Make-A-Wish Michigan President & CEO Michael Hull surprised Connor Pung with GVSU swag and a large check during Make-A-Wish Michigan's Wish-A-Mile Cycling event.
Image credit - T.J. Hamilton

While Connor was being treated at the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, Bruce was forced to quit his job to care for his son. Because of that loss of income, the family was unsure if they could afford to send Connor to college. Thanks to the generosity of Grand Valley and Make-A-Wish Michigan, however, “it’s one more burden lifted off our shoulders,” said Connor.

“We are so grateful and overwhelmed by everything that Grand Valley has done as an institution, and for the Make-A-Wish Foundation,” said Amy, who was unable to hold back tears while talking about her son’s journey. “It’s been amazing. We’re just so happy that he is here to have this day with us, and that he’s able to go to college and have everything that he needs.” 

Between bouts of chemotherapy at the hospital, Connor would stay active and optimistic by going on walks around his hospital floor. While on those walks he would encourage other patients to join, and he even hosted a walk-a-thon in April to raise money for The Big O and PORT, two organizations that helped him during his fight.

Connor worked hard to beat cancer and graduate as valedictorian at Central Montcalm High School, she said, adding it is incredible to see all the help he has received. He has always been a leader: at school, in the hospital, and now, she said, as a Laker.

Connor Pung and Brianna Tipple laugh together as they stand in a dorm room.
The Stars for Make-A-Wish Foundation club at Grand Valley delivered a welcome gift basket to Connor Pung, left, as he moved into Ott Living Center August 23. Club president Brianna Tipple, center, laughs with Pung's father.

When Connor moved onto the Allendale campus on August 23, he was greeted by members of the GVSU Stars for Make-A-Wish Foundation Club, who delivered a basket of Grand Valley swag from the Office of the President. GVSU Stars is a student-run organization that volunteers and hosts fundraisers for Make-A-Wish Michigan, while also working with other organizations in the community. They are always looking for ways to get involved with local wish recipients, said club president Brianna Tipple.

Connor will pursue a degree in information technology. The program is part of the reason he chose to attend GVSU, with the bonus that his best friend is also attending. “I looked around at a lot of different colleges,” he said, “but Grand Valley seemed like they had the best program, along with so many different options for support. It was the right fit for me.”

Make-A-Wish Michigan's mission is to create life-changing wishes for Michigan kids with critical illnesses. These wishes are transformational, not only for the wish kids, but for their family, community, and medical teams. To learn more and find out how you can help make wishes come true for local kids with critical illnesses, visit Make-A-Wish Michigan


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