GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The first students whose welding education at Grand Rapids Community College was made possible by heavy metal band Metallica graduated Monday night.

In December, GRCC announced it was getting $100,000 from the Metallica Scholars program to connect nontraditional students with welding jobs. Thanks to the program, several students are now moving on to their careers debt-free.

“I’m very happy. I’m ecstatic, I’m grateful, I’m thankful for this opportunity to be here now, to be graduating,” said Uniqua Sparks, crying tears of joy. “Thank you, Metallica, for everything.”

grcc metallica scholars welding graduation
Uniqua Sparks graduates from the Grand Rapids Community College welding program backed by Metallica Scholars. (Aug. 12, 2019)

She was among the students who received help with tuition and equipment through the program and plans to get a job in welding.

Two other graduates were husband and wife Bob and Rebecca Pawloski, who got into the program to support their daughter.

“Our daughter one day said, ‘Hey, I’d like to start making metal art.’ And so we thought, ‘OK, let’s encourage that.’ That’s better than her sitting on a cellphone and just flipping through apps. We bought just a simple, easy welder and my husband watched some YouTube videos. And then we thought, we should get some more formal training, and it kind of snowballed from there,” Rebecca Pawloski said.

grcc metallica scholars welding graduation
Bob and Rebecca Pawloski pose with their certificates after graduating from the Grand Rapids Community College welding program backed by Metallica Scholars. (Aug. 12, 2019)

“You don’t have to be stuck doing the same thing … you can learn new things,” she continued. “I’ve worked an office job my entire life. Just to know that I actually am fairly decent at MIG welding and I could go get a job in that is pretty empowering. We want her (our daughter) to be empowered to know that she can do anything.”

Nine other community colleges around the country also got the Metallica Scholars grant. Each is in a city where Metallica had a tour stop in the last couple of years; the band visited Grand Rapids in March 2018.