Couple receives surprise ceremony

Alaina Robbins

Chris and Jennifer Petrovic pose with Dean David Mohan at their informal graduation ceremony at Kinetico Inc., after the two graduates were involved in a car accident during the Geauga campus commencement on May 12. They finally received their diplomas o

Credit: Steve Schirra

   Chris and Jennifer Petrovic were heading to their commencement on May 12, when an oncoming car crossed into their lane, creating a collision that totaled the couple’s 2005 Ford Focus and caused them to miss their entire graduation ceremony.

Chris, 28, was transported by Life Flight to a Cleveland hospital. He suffered a concussion, bruised brain and whiplash.

Jennifer, 22, who was more than four months pregnant at the time, was rushed to Geauga Regional Hospital. The baby was uninjured, but Jennifer underwent surgery on a broken right wrist.

Chris’s 6-year-old daughter, Gillian, was sitting in the back seat. She suffered a bruised lung but was otherwise unharmed.

Both Chris and Jennifer had spent several years balancing full-time careers and family while working toward their associate degrees at the Kent State Geauga campus. They are employed at Kinetico Inc., a water treatment company in Newbury Township.

When Wilma Grootegoed, a sales administrator who works in the same department as Jennifer, heard of the couple’s situation, she and her co-workers began planning a commencement ceremony for them.

The couple is referred to by fellow employees as the “Kinetico love story” because they met on the job, Grootegoed said. “We all thought that they deserved a graduation.”

Grootegoed, a Kent State graduate, contacted David Mohan, dean of the Geauga campus, to arrange the ceremony.

“We go out of our way to serve the students, and to me this is just one more example of our great commitment to the community,” Mohan said.

Through an in-house education program, Kinetico had paid for all of the couple’s schooling and books and gave them bonuses upon graduation.

“KSU (Geauga) works closely with Kinetico,” Mohan said. “A high percentage of our students work full time and go to school.”

On June 13, about 100 of the couple’s family, friends and co-workers arrived at Kinetico’s training center room to cheer them on as they received their degrees.

The commencement ceremony was a surprise to the pair, who were told to bring in their caps and gowns that day to pose for graduation photos that the company would post on its communications board.

When the couple saw the room full of well-wishers, they realized what was going on and “both broke into tears,” Grootegoed said. “It was very touching.”

Patricia Book, vice president for regional development, and Donna Moore Ramsey, assistant dean of the Geauga campus, presented the couple with their diplomas, while Geauga County Commissioner and Kent State alumna Mary Samide re-created for the couple the graduation speech she had given at the regional campus.

The crowd applauded when Mohan instructed Chris and Jennifer to shift their white tassels to signify their graduation.

“It was truly a great thing,” Chris said. “We really appreciate everything Kent State and Kinetico did for us.”

Chris plans to pursue his education and will work toward his bachelor’s degree at Kent State.

Jennifer wants to stay home when the couple’s new baby is born, whom they plan to name Emily Grace. The baby is due in September.

Contact international affairs and regional campuses reporter Alaina Robbins at [email protected].