GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It was a special day for the 3,271 people who walked off the stage at Van Andel Arena as graduates of Grand Valley State University.
But for at least two people, Saturday was a day they hold especially dear.
For Paul Mayhue, former county commissioner turned community activist, the ceremony was a grand way to celebrate his 72nd birthday. Mayhue graduated from GVSU in 1976, but he had to wait 43 years to walk across the stage.
“In 1976, my family was so poor that my mother and my dad couldn’t afford clothes to come to a place like this for me to be honored,” Mayhue said while his eyes were moist with emotion.
But this year, his daughter arranged with the university for him to finally walk and receive his diploma.
“I wouldn’t want to do this without my family around,” he said.
Many members of his family were here to see the occasion. His sash featured pictures of his mom and dad.
“My mother was always a fan of education, but life’s circumstances sometimes deal us a bad hand,” Mayhue said. “But God was able to keep me alive long enough to get this done.”
It was also a special day for 66-year-old university president Thomas Haas.
Saturday marked the 13th and last commencement that Haas has presided over.
Haas, who has been leading the university since August 2006, along with his wife, Marcia, was honored with a surprise announcement where they were celebrated for their service as the students chanted “T-HAAS.”
The chants clearly moved the president.
“Wasn’t that something? Wow,” Haas told 24 Hour News 8 after the ceremony. “That started two hours into my presidency in ’06 and stuck ever since then.”
He officially leaves in June but plans to return to the classroom as a chemistry professor.
“It will always be in my heart. I will always be a Laker for a lifetime, just like all those graduates today,” Haas said.
In-coming president Philomena Mantella will succeed Haas as GVSU’s fifth president.
“It has been a journey of joy and humbled service here to Grand Valley and West Michigan,” Haas said.