When telephoned at their home in Boynton Beach, Fla., and told they’d been selected to receive the alumni association’s 2006 Outstanding Service Award, Stu ’72 and Mary Sytsma Greydanus ’73 couldn’t think of much to say — and they are rarely at a loss for words. But when asked whom they’d like to have seated with them at the award dinner, words flooded back: “Our kids: They’re the ones who should be getting the award.”
The Greydanuses didn’t mean their daughters, Jeanine ’01 and Leah ’03, or not only them. They also meant Moise and Jona and Maxine and Jermey and Sergei: all immigrants, all from families little able to afford a college education, much less a Calvin education. All Greydanus kids.
“The Greydanus family welcomed me into their lives. They have taken under their wings many kids like me and mentored us into mature adults.”
Those are the words of Moise Derosier ’02. At 17 he left his family and native Haiti on a small boat pointed at the Florida coast. Three years later, enrolled at Forest Hill High School, he met his future in math and physics teacher Stu Greydanus. Mary and Stu encouraged Moise to apply to Calvin and helped him walk through the process — and the fears. They cajoled financial aid for him.
Derosier is now in his second year teaching mathematics to ESOL (English to speakers of other languages) students at Palm Beach (Fla.) Lakes High School. After his first year he was honored with the school’s New Teacher of the Year Award. In February Derosier finished a master’s degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL). Still, he and his wife, Jessica Johnson Derosier ’03, find time to run a food relief program in Haiti that serves 30 families.
Though Moise’s story is perhaps the most dramatic in its details, the stories of the other Greydanus kids feature the same theme: All were students of Stu Greydanus and all first dismissed Calvin College for its cost and its distance from Florida. And all, thanks to the Greydanuses, attended.
And now all are headed toward futures Calvin helped them define. Jona Francisque ’05 is a registered nurse at Spectrum Health’s Blodgett campus in Grand Rapids, Mich., and is engaged to a fellow Haitian she met at a local church. Sergei Vitrenko owns a computer software business in Palm Beach, Fla. Maxine Bent is a senior with a major in chemical engineering. Jermey Gajadhar is already working for Smiths Aerospace in Grand Rapids and will continue with the company after earning his degree in electrical and computer engineering this spring.
After Gajadhar and Bent graduate there won’t be any Greydanus kids at Calvin. Part of the reason is that Stu has moved to a new high school, just now graduating its second class. It takes awhile for kids to trust the Greydanuses enough to believe that a Christian liberal arts college 2,000 miles away with long winters, relatively few ethnic-minority students and a private school tuition bill is a good idea.
That price tag, combined with other economic conditions, is really the bigger reason they haven’t lately sent any of their kids to Calvin, the Greydanuses say.
“The economy here is so tight, and with the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship almost any kid can afford a Florida college,” Stu said. “Recruiters ask me for the names of these kids and then hunt them down like the hound of heaven. They make it possible for them to attend schools like Cornell and Princeton and Amherst.”
It is hard for Calvin to compete with the packages these national institutions offer, but the Greydanuses know from experience that the relationships, and thus the learning, that Calvin offers aren’t duplicated elsewhere. So they haven’t given up recruiting kids from inner-city Palm Beach — and not just for the kids’ sake.
“Calvin becomes a better school and offers a broader, more rewarding experience for all its students when kids like Moise and Jona and Sergei and Jermey and Maxine are there,” Mary said.
“And,” Stu added, “these kids coming in from outside the mainstream Calvin community let you know what you have, and maybe you know it for the first time.”
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