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Student Profile: Karyl DeBruyn

For those that know Karyl DeBruyn, it comes as no surprise that on April 18, 2012, she was awarded the R.J. Bennett Outstanding Adult Learner Award. As part of the GRAHEN (Grand Rapids Area Higher Education Network) Outstanding Adult Learner awards ceremony, each member institution recognizes one adult student for their work and presence in the classroom, and for Aquinas, DeBruyn was the obvious choice.

“I was ecstatic, yet not surprised, that Karyl was named the Outstanding Adult Learner,” said Dr. Dave Weinandy, who has gotten to know DeBruyn quite well during her work to earn a interdisciplinary major in communication. “Karyl is one of the most enjoyable and motivated students I have ever had the honor of teaching. The more challenging the work, the more motivated she becomes, all while being positive.”

Although DeBruyn maintains that her “philosophy of life is to continue to learn,” service to others is, for her, held in the same regard. DeBruyn began her work over 30 years ago as a registered nurse before deciding, in 2000, to begin the process of becoming a Spiritual Director. Since then, DeBruyn has worked with cancer patients throughout Grand Rapids, an experience which further inspired her to become the Manager of Spectrum Health Grand Rapids Volunteer Services, guiding 2,000 volunteers in their work to help patients at Blodgett, Butterworth, the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion, and the Meijer Heart Center.

“I was working with cancer patients that had completed their treatment, and they were supporting newly-diagnosed patients. So they were volunteers who were trying to make meaning of their experience, their suffering, and their healing journey, and they were supporting newly diagnosed patients and really just walking down that path with them,” DeBruyn said. “And at the same time, I began to work with volunteers that were members of the Patient Family Advisory Council at Spectrum Health, so in working with those two populations, it just seemed a pretty natural path to begin to work with all the volunteers at Spectrum Health.”

In 2006, while pursuing her Spiritual Direction Practicum, DeBruyn decided to take a Theology class at Aquinas, and hasn’t looked back. Although she began by being dual-enrolled in both Aquinas and Grand Valley State University in order to help study around her work schedule, she eventually decided that Aquinas was where she wanted to dedicate her time.

“It was just no comparison, [I love] the philosophy, the attitude. What happens in the classroom is so respectful, it’s so filled with dignity,” DeBruyn said. “I think there’s a lifeblood that’s at Aquinas, and I love it.”

Now, six years after her first Aquinas experience, DeBruyn is being recognized, not only for her work within the classroom, but outside of it as well. Although many would call trying to work, learn, and raise a family “juggling,” for DeBruyn it is all connected.

“It all weaves together very beautifully,” DeBruyn said. “I’m finding the older I get, the more integrated it all becomes. I feel so honored to be able to have that good balance and be able to have so many different ways to serve, grow, and learn.”

However, conflicts inevitably arise, and for DeBruyn on such clash came on the night of the GRAHEN Awards Ceremony, at time she usually had class. Luckily for DeBruyn, who had chosen to attend class instead of the Ceremony, that night’s session was cancelled.

“I just love Aquinas College, so being able to be there as a representative of Aquinas was a huge honor. I just cannot say enough of how Aquinas has become my home, a safe place that I know I get to go to learn,” DeBruyn said. “I consider it a privilege to go to a place that’s so good. I speak for people who are in the adult stage of their life where there is just so much of an opportunity to learn and grow. I just find that Aquinas is such a respectful, holy place.”

“Class is not about instructing her. It is about having a conversation with her,” Dr. Weinandy said. “Whether she realizes it or not, Karyl serves as a role model for other students [on] how a professional should act. She demonstrates that one can be warm, compassionate, gracious, and competent.”