Commencement speaker urges new grads to stay local

May 23, 2022 Fran LeFort

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WCC President Dr. Rose B. Bellanca presents Ann Arbor SPARK President & CEO Paul Krutko with an Honorary Degree in Community Service prior to his address at the WCC Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 21. (Photo by JD Scott)



As President and CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK, Paul Krutko is a key leader in the county and region’s economic engine. Having held similar roles from California to Florida, Krutko has a proven track record of helping communities prosper.

Though his resume highlights a 40-year career of economic and community development expertise, Krutko and the 2022 Washtenaw Community College graduates share a common thread – perseverance.

Krutko, this year’s WCC Honorary Associate Degree in Community Service recipient, was the first in his family to graduate from college.

“All my grandparents came through Ellis Island before World War I, and they and my parents persevered, sacrificed and believed that their children could have opportunities they could not possibly imagine – like me standing before you today and receiving this honor,” he told WCC’s graduates.

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Krutko was honored for his extraordinary support of Washtenaw Community College, its students and for leading a life of service that has benefitted the entire community. He includes WCC at the table as an equal partner with other area institutions of higher education.

Ann Arbor SPARK is a public-private partnership of business, government and academic institutions responsible for economic development and enhancing the region’s global competitiveness.

“As you celebrate and leave this ceremony today, you are entering a world that is undergoing a sea change of how people work, where they live and what they value. The pandemic and conflict between nations has exacerbated economic inequities and made progress on environmental sustainability more difficult,” Krutko said.

“However, with what you have learned here at WCC and the innate grit and perseverance that got you here today, this graduation day, you will respond to the challenges of the world around you and build a better life for yourselves and your family, and for us all.”

Krutko promoted science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers and encouraged graduates to stay in the state.

He urged the pursuit of additional learning and advancement opportunities, such as Ann Arbor SPARK’s MISTEM Forward program, which offers paid internships with Michigan companies engaged in STEM work. Through the program, 130 students, out of an annual goal of 500, have already been placed this year.

“We want you to stay in Michigan for your career. We don’t want you to go someplace else,” Krutko told graduates before sending them off with “Congratulations and godspeed on your journeys!”

Krutko joins an illustrious group of WCC Honorary Associate Degree in Community Service recipients:

  • 2019: Karl Covert, Dean of Washtenaw Technical Middle College
  • 2018: George W. Waddles Jr., Pastor at Ypsilanti’s Second Baptist Church
  • 2017: Adam Zemke, State Representative
  • 2016: Debbie Dingell, U.S. Representative
  • 2015: Mary Dobson, Philanthropist
  • 2014: Gary M. Owen, State Representative
  • 2013: Michael A. Finney, CEO of Michigan Economic Development Corp.
  • 2012: John Dingell, U.S. Representative

In her introduction of Krutko at the commencement ceremony, WCC Board of Trustees vice chair Angela Davis said the college works with SPARK to develop training opportunities to positively impact economic development.

“Paul always invites WCC to meet with new companies thinking about coming into this area, which shows how much he values the college and what we do here to educate students and prepare the workforce,” Davis said.

In addition to his responsibilities as SPARK CEO, Krutko served as chair of the preeminent professional economic development organization in the world, the International Economic Development Council (IEDC). He was founding chair of the Economic Development Research Partnership and was designated an Honorary Life Member of IEDC in 2013.

Additionally, Krutko is immediate past chair (2019-2021) of the board of the International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation, and he is also treasurer of the American Center for Mobility.

Krutko earned a Bachelor of Urban Planning and Design degree from the University of Cincinnati, College of Design, Architecture and Art in 1979.

Tags: Awards, Class of 2022, Commencement, Graduation, June 2022, On The Record

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