Day 1: GCU Commencement Blog

May 03, 2012 / by / 2 Comments

Doug Carroll, Michael Ferraresi and Bob Romantic of the GCU News Bureau are blogging from commencement on the GCU campus. Here are some of their stories and observations from Wednesday’s ceremonies for the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Christian Studies, Fine Arts and Production, and Business. Check back for updates throughout the day.

A Father, a Son and a Very Big Day

I made it.

Almost 23 years ago, at Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, I was there to see him into the world. And today, at GCU, I am here to see him out into the world,  if only in a figurative sense.

The many people who said it would go by quickly were right. Time waits for no one, but for parents of a certain age it seems to be in the HOV lane, speeding down the freeway of life. On commencement day, the years seem like a blur as I look at the 6-foot-6 man in the cap and gown. Who is this guy in need of a haircut? What a glorious, fabulous blur it has been.

I’m looking at the program in my hand, just a few minutes from ceremonies for the Ken Blanchard College of Business. There it is, near the top of Page 20: Brad Carroll. This is for real, right? Guess so. And welcome to my own mortality.

We’ve been telling lots of good stories this week. But for parents of graduates of the Class of 2012, there’s one that matters most: theirs.

Congratulations to all of us. We made it.

Doug Carroll

First Ceremony Anxiety-Free  

As Thursday’s morning commencement ceremony concluded, the GCU staffers in the audio-video command center at the top deck of GCU Arena seemed calm. No panicked button-pushing to be noted.

Having never hosted a commencement ceremony at the Arena, or on campus, there was plenty of anxiety in the weeks leading up. Staffers at GCU’s Event Services office spent weeks fielding hundreds of phone calls from visiting families, in addition to helping coordinate all the services that go into such a massive event. Parking, multimedia, food — everything was put under a microscope.

Graduates celebrate during Thursday's commencement cermonies. (Photo by Michael Ging)

On Thursday, everything seemed to gel. Family members were able to text messages to their graduating loved ones and see their words scrolling through the ribbon video screen across the middle of the arena.

GCU staff received more than 1,600 text messages from more than 730 phones in the first ceremony alone for graduating students from the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Christian Studies and Fine Arts and Production.

But the main victory, staff said, was getting the crowds in and out in a timely manner — making visitors feel comfortable on campus.

“I credit all the commencement committees and staff — everyone pulled through and came together to make it run smoothly,” said Jennifer Girl, GCU’s director of campus events.

Michael Ferraresi

Working Overtime, and Then Some

It takes a lot of people working a lot of hours to pull off a graduation ceremony. But throw in a second ceremony on the same day, and an Amy Grant concert that same night at the Arena?

“We’ve been pretty busy,” said Freda Black, concessions manager for the Grand Canyon University Arena.

Black has 30 staff members who will be working a 16-hour day Thursday, followed by 10 more hours Friday for the final two graduation cermonies. They got a 30-minute break following the first ceremony on Thursday. As soon as the second ceremony ends, Black said she’s heading straight to the grill to start preparing “the best chicken nuggets and tenders this side of the Mississippi” for the concert tonight.

“We won’t have a break until it’s time to check out and go home (around midnight),” Black said.

— Bob Romantic

Beggs Has Left the Building

For GCU’s resident rapper and retiring professor, Dr. James Beggs, Thursday morning’s commencement was his last official act for the University.

Dr. James Beggs poses with Kelly Sanderson prior to Thursday morning's commencement ceremony.

Beggs said he didn’t feel sad at the graduation ceremony that also served as his swan song.

“I felt more happy and excited,” Beggs said. “It’s the students’ graduation. It’s their day. They’re excited. … And I thought quite a lot about how far the university has come since I came here (11 years ago) and the fact that it is poised to do even greater than in the past.

“Grand Canyon is really building and growing. There is a spirit and an excitement that is infectious. I was proud to be part of it to this point.”

To see GCU Today’s profile of Beggs and a faculty tribute to him (in the form of a rap video, which Beggs has become known for on campus), click here.

Bob Romantic

Artist Makes Commencement His Canvas

Artist Erik Wahl, whose dramatic, on-the-spot portraiture leaves a lasting impression, painted Albert Einstein and Bono at this morning’s commencement to thunderous applause. “Bono brings the house down every time,” Wahl said. “There’s an emotional connection.”

Wahl followed that up in the afternoon graduation ceremony for the Ken Blanchard College of Business with portraits of John Lennon and Steve Jobs — the latter of which he somehow painted upside down (as he did with Einstein) before giving it the twist that brought graduates and the crowd to its feet.

Artist Erik Wahl works quickly on creating a portrait of Albert Einstein at Thursday morning's commencement. (Photo by Michael Ging)

The San Diego-based Wahl, 41, has been doing his thing for about 10 years, and this is his fourth time at GCU — but his first at commencement. “I was a suit for the first 29 years of my life,” said Wahl, adding that he turned to his unique brand of motivational art when he lost everything and had to figure out a direction all over again.

“It was this or set sail around the world,” he said. “I feel there’s a simple truth everyone knows about living freely and passionately.”

He’ll typically do eight or 10 corporate functions in a month, although he made five appearances this week, traveling as far as Orlando and Atlanta. If you want one of his pieces, they’re not for sale. He hands them off to his clients, who then usually auction them for charity.

“I love that part of it,” said Wahl’s wife, Tasha, who’s also his manager.

Wahl said there are 40 or 50 famous people in his arsenal, and he wants audiences that have seen him previously to be surprised. He loves appealing to the masses. 

“I don’t want art to be available to just the uber-rich,” he said. “Art is freedom, and I want it available to all. It should mean more than just a status symbol.”

You can email Wahl at ewahl@theartofvision.com or follow him on Twitter at @erikwahl.

Doug Carroll

Bonita Brings Down the House

Bonita Baldwin doesn't hold back during a moving rendition of the national anthem.

If you’ve never heard Bonita Baldwin sing — and being new to GCU, I hadn’t — all I can say is “Wow.” Only God can create a voice like that. Baldwin’s stirring rendition of the national anthem at this morning’s commencement had the crowd singing her praises and Baldwin nearly moved to tears when it was over.

Baldwin graduates with a bachelor’s degree in Christian studies after a difficult journey that we chronicled earlier at GCU Today. She will sing the national anthem at each of the four commencement ceremonies.

— Bob Romantic

Early Observations From an Arena-Builder

As families filed into GCU Arena around 8 a.m., Bob Machen stood in one of the entryways he helped design years ago. The Arena was hosting its first-ever commencement ceremony.
 
Machen, the Arena’s general manager who oversaw the $40 million construction project  beginning in 2009, said his team was making notes on what was working and other things that may need to improve for future ceremonies. In the past, GCU has hosted commencement at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix — a venue Machen also helped design.
 
“This is as special as it gets,” Machen said. “Concerts are one thing. But this is what the University is all about — being able to serve students.”
 
Michael Ferraresi
 
Film Program Trailblazer Among Fine Arts Grads
 

When he was unsure how to harness his creative spirit, GCU provided David King with a video camera. He worked in graphic design. He enjoyed visual arts. But filmmaking moved him.

King is the first graduate of a GCU digital film production program that’s growing far beyond the 15 students from the initial class two years ago. After transferring from a communications program at a university in San Diego, King discovered his passion for storytelling through film in GCU’s fledging program.

The 26-year-old Prescott native, who graduates today with others in the College of Fine Arts and Production, said he hopes GCU retains the intimacy and personality that kept him so engaged as a film student.

“Right now it’s very, very personal,” said King, whose recent work includes a short feature film about alien conspiracies.

King hasn’t decided where he wants to work in film yet, and he said he’s in no rush. He just hopes he has enough access to cameras, editing equipment and other technology that were readily available to him at GCU.

“I really stepped (up my work) recently knowing I was leaving,” King said. “I had that recognition that I wouldn’t have the same access to equipment when I left.”

He credited film program director Gregg Elder for being so available to answer questions and provide assistance on classroom productions. At many film schools, that kind of cameras and high-end equipment available to a limited number of students.

“He’s always willing to help if you put yourself out there,” King said. “I’ve never had him turn me down on anything.”

GCU’s digital film program will include about 100 students by the fall semester, a comparable number of students to the film programs at Arizona State University and University of Arizona, according to Elder.

Michael Ferraresi 

The End of a Long Journey

Jana Johnson just had to have a look at GCU, and she has come all the way from China for it.

Johnson, 49, who graduates today with a bachelor’s degree in Christian studies, has been living for the past year in Beijing with her husband, Steven, and their 5-year-old son, A.J. She teaches English at the university level over there.

Jana Johnson (right) with her mother, Joy Fahrner, outside the new chapel under construction on campus.

“To me, this is a huge turning point in my life,” she said of her degree, which required two years of online study to finish. “It’s been worth it. God has been good to us.”

The Johnsons have taken six weeks of leave, and they’ll go back on May 11 for at least two more years in China. Six family members are here with them to celebrate Jana’s graduation.

Jana said her studies with GCU have been invaluable.

“In the global community, there are people with opinions (on spirituality),” she said. “There’s only one way to God, but there are different ways of looking at it. Many of the students we talk to were brought up Buddhist or atheist, and I studied those in my world religions class. It prepared me to relate to them and to bridge that gap.”

She’s not done with GCU. Later this month, she’ll begin work on a master’s degree in urban ministry.

“God has sealed my heart for the people of China,” she said. “He wants them to know His love for them.”

— Doug Carroll

It’s All in the Family

Graduation is a family affair for some at GCU.

Online student Nord Bullock, 39, a police officer in Houston, is graduating today with a bachelor of arts degree in Christian studies; his wife Bernadette, 47, will be by his side, literally, while receiving her bachelor of science degree in psychology; Nord’s brother Daron Willis, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and his wife Maryland will both be graduating with bachelor of arts degrees in Christian studies.

Daron Willis (clockwise, from bottom), Maryland Willis, Nord Bullock and Bernadette Bullock enjoyed a family reunion at graduation ceremonies Thursday morning.

They’ll be joined in attendance by Bernadette’s parents, Nord’s mother and his sister Tamesha, who got a master’s in education from GCU in 2009.

The Bullocks both had taken college classes when they were younger but never got degrees. And when Nord’s father died in 2008, he said “it just turned a switch for me.”

“I wanted to fulfill my dreams; I want to be a pastor and get an education. I had been putting it off and making excuses, but that spurred me to do it.”

Once Nord took the plunge, other family members followed suit.

“I wasn’t fulfilled in the jobs I had,” Bernadette said. “You can make a lot of money but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a career or an area you want to stay in. I knew God had a greater purpose for me.”

— Bob Romantic


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2 Responses
  1. Sandy Hartmann

    Congratulations Brother Nord and Sister Bernadette and family! What a wonderful accomplishment to bring God all the glory! Love you, Sandy

    May.04.2012 at 9:03 am
  2. Pat Albright

    As a graduating participant in Thursday’s commencement exercises, I cannot say enough about the ‘well-oiled machine’ that I experienced! Yes, the ceremonies were meaningful and the speakers were awesome; the music was incredibly inspirational and one could feel the family of God come together, but the unsung heroes were those who made it happen. My graduation cap is off to all who were present to make our day easier, from those who initially greeted, registered, helped to get the tassels and chords in right placement to those who stood at the ends of the rows to guide us to the stage. Thank you and God bless!

    May.04.2012 at 9:21 am
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