'Mom, we're graduating together!' Mother and daughter relish earning degrees at same time

As Corinn VanWyck assessed her progression as a LEADS student, she realized she was headed toward an April graduation. She shared the news with her daughter and fellow Grand Valley student, Eva.

"She said, 'Mom, that means we're graduating together!'" Corinn recalled.

Because their degrees are from different colleges, each will be able to watch the other's Commencement ceremony this week. 

While one is a more traditional post-high school student and the other a returning student, and their routes toward earning degrees started decades apart, they had this in common: Grand Valley offered at the same time exactly what both needed to ultimately achieve their goals.

Two people wearing caps and gowns smile while looking at the camera. Pink blossoms from a tree hang overhead.
Eva VanWyck, left, is earning a degree in exercise science, while Corinn VanWyck is earning a degree in integrative studies through the LEADS program.

Eva said her visit to Grand Valley quickly cemented her future as a Laker. She has thrived as an exercise science major and honors student.

She has been impressed by GVSU's personalized approach and how academic experts helped steer her to a field of study that suits her, working to help educate people on preventative health measures to enhance wellness.

Eva is starting a job at University of Michigan Health West as community outreach and wellness coordinator, an outgrowth of her required internship through the exercise science program.

"I really felt like people saw me as Eva and saw my unique journey on this campus and I didn't feel that on other campuses. I was immediately all in," Eva said.

Like her daughter, Corinn started out on the Grand Valley campus immediately after high school – the first in her family to go directly from high school to college. It was the 1980s, and Grand Valley was not yet a university, with a significantly smaller student population and campus footprint, she said.

Her time as a Laker art student ended after one year and she transferred to Michigan State. But Corinn said she struggled as a first-generation student. "There was really no frame of reference for that in my family, so I was kind of working my way through school and figuring out how to fund it," she said.

Corinn said a job opportunity as a graphic artist seemed to be the way for her to make ends meet, but she discovered options then for completing a four-year degree while working during the day "didn't really exist."

She moved on in her career, kept taking community college classes and earned an associate degree. She also took adult learning classes at MSU. She ended up on the administrative side of the art world, including a stint as the executive director of the East Lansing Art Festival. She worked for an arts organization in Ludington and is now the clerk in the city's public works department.

Two people wearing caps and gowns smile while looking at a camera. A white pillar is behind them.
Two people wearing caps and gowns smile while looking at each other. The pink blossoms of a tree hang overhead.
Eva and Corinn both express great pride about each other and their accomplishments when talking about this unique milestone.

Still, Corinn regretted not earning a bachelor's degree. And she said she knew not having a degree had suppressed her earning potential.

One day, as she and her daughter Amelia were looking at GVSU's website as Amelia was considering schools – she is now a GVSU studio art major – Corinn noticed information on the LEADS program.

Out of curiosity, she sent for her college transcript. And in working with the LEADS advising staff, she found most of her credits transferred. As she leapt into the accelerated program, she even found her life experience allowed her to waive two classes.

Corinn, whose degree program included an emphasis in leadership, said she wants to be a change agent and looks forward to the future opportunities for that. And she intends to continue with her lifelong learning, perhaps even pursuing an advanced degree.

"There's no limit on when you can achieve these things. There's no limit to what you can learn and how you can continue to be a lifelong learner," Corinn said. "Grand Valley really stands out in not only the support for traditional college-age students but the opportunities and support for people like me."

Corinn said her daughter is "extremely gracious" to share this graduation journey with her. But Eva has another take.

Eva said their tight-knit family – which also includes spouse/dad Chris and youngest sibling Dominic – provided a foundation of strong work ethic and encouragement to follow individual passions.

Eva said to her mom: "I think it's cool that we get to finish at the same time because the culmination of your own efforts have echoed down through me. So then to come to fruition at the same time is special.

"I'm excited. How many people do you know who get to graduate with their mom?"


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