On June 14, the Graduate East Lansing opened its doors at the heart of Grand River Avenue with a style that is inherently green and white. Every aspect of the hotel’s thoughtful design draws inspiration from Michigan State’s campus life and memorabilia — from the rooftop “Rock Bar,” inspired by the Rock on campus, to the corn stalk light fixtures in honor of William James Beal, who was the first to conduct research to hybridize corn and developed the 24-row corn farming system.
What makes the hotel even more special is its strong ties to the Broad College. Not only are Broad Spartan alumni involved through the hotel’s management, but the hotel has also crafted a suite in honor of Bonnie Knutson, professor of hospitality business.
“Each of our hotels goes above and beyond with our suite product, knowing that on game days, graduation weekends, parents’ weekends and several other high-profile moments on campus, we are hosting some of the most influential alumni and members of the community,” Eric Hassberger, president of AJ Capital, which encompasses all Graduate hotels, said.
Hassberger (B.A. Finance ’04) was especially thrilled to create a special tribute suite to show appreciation to Knutson for her contributions to MSU.
“For someone who has given so much to the university, specifically the hospitality school, and someone who has been a longtime friend and mentor of mine, we wanted to do something really special,” he said. “We are so proud to have Dr. Bonnie as the namesake of our premier suite.”
The tribute suite was a surprise for Knutson. When she found out during her first tour of the hotel, she was reminded of a quote from the Greek philosopher Diogenes that has served as her mantra: “The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.”
“My gracious honor is a recognition of the value that the students’ work has made to the brand, and I was the point person for the students,” she said. “It was the students’ passion, and I think that is what’s being honored with my name on the door.”
Throughout her 38 years at MSU, Knutson has continued to make a profound impact on her students through her collaboration- and project-based courses.
“My project-based classes help students learn by execution. I don’t think of them as students — I think of them as consultants to the industry, and that’s how I treat them,” Knutson explained. “The passion our alumni have is what they pass on to the next generation of hospitality leaders. It’s that partnership that is so incredibly valuable.”
The premier Bonnie Knutson suite features a comfortable chaise lounge by the window, large wet bar, stunning oversized shower, dual-sink vanity and comfortable living space perfect for entertaining — something that’s considered second nature to people within hospitality business.
Sarah Gregory (B.A. Hospitality Business ’13), hotel manager of the Graduate East Lansing, shared how Knutson’s “zest for life and passion for the students and the hospitality program is unmatched. Genuine hospitality is ingrained in almost all of the students who pursue a hospitality business degree from Broad — they like studying business, but they like serving people more. She matches the students’ passion ounce for ounce.”
Both Hassberger and Gregory had the chance to learn from Knutson while studying at Broad. Although Gregory’s passion for hospitality business has taken her across the country, she is eager to reconnect with her alma mater in her role at the Graduate.
“Michigan State has such a special place in my heart, and being able to launch a new hospitality concept in East Lansing has been a blessing. The Graduate, for me, differentiates itself because it is the only design-led lodging concept in the area,” she said. “Boutique and lifestyle hotels provide travelers with a unique experience that is full of discovery through design, which allows guests to immerse themselves in the local culture. Today’s travelers are seeking a more immersive experience when they travel, and the Graduate brand hits it home.”
Part of what makes Broad’s hospitality program so unique is its alumni, who give back to their community and share industry knowledge with current students. Knutson bridges both groups together to collaborate and understands the value of learning through experience beyond a classroom. In 2020, Knutson’s students even worked to develop a strategy for the Graduate’s grand opening.
Hassberger said Knutson “is a special part of this university and has been integral in helping us begin the development of a longstanding relationship with the school and the hospitality program.”
Graduate hotels are heritage-driven, university-anchored hotels that serve as meaningful backdrops to some of life’s biggest moments. They aspire to bring to life the history of the community and university through their design and placemaking. The Graduate East Lansing is no different, filled as it is with stunning décor inspired by the tradition, history and Spartan pride that is so ingrained in the East Lansing community.
The Bonnie Knutson tribute suite serves as a testament to and a celebration of the bond between the Broad College and its strong network of students and alumni — and to Knutson’s unwavering dedication to helping Broad Spartans succeed.