Class of 2012: Saenz a Servant and a Scholar
FIFTH IN A SERIES
By Bob Romantic
GCU News Bureau
The lyrics struck a chord with Raul Saenz.
“I thank God every time I think about those second floor memories
We laughed and we cried and you stood right by my side
When God laid out my life, he had you in mind”
Saenz heard the verse from “Second Floor Memories” when Brian Weaver performed the song during a Young Life Ambassadors camp. Saenz was a junior in high school at the time, but the lyrics about the bonds forged in college with fellow Christians in a close-knit community became entrenched in his mind.
“When I heard the song, it really moved me,” Saenz said. “It became my heart’s desire to have that experience that he talked about. I had never really thought about college, but it planted a seed.”
That seed was dormant – and nearly died – when Saenz graduated from Apollo High School in Glendale. He spent two years at Glendale Community College, but it wasn’t the college experience that Weaver shared in his song lyrics.
“I thought, ‘Oh, I missed out. I’m not going to have that college experience,’” Saenz said.
But Saenz did have that experience, and then some, thanks to a scholarship from Grand Canyon University’s new Servant Scholar program. And on May 3, the 22-year-old will become GCU’s first Servant Scholar graduate.
“I’m sad I’m leaving, but God gave me what I really desired for a long time. He allowed it to happen,” said Saenz, who relishes the community atmosphere on campus. “Every day I’d wake up and it’s just a joy. And it’s because of the Servant Scholar program.”
‘What college is supposed to look like’
The Servant Scholar program awards scholarships of up to $10,000 per year to students who excel as Christian leaders in their community. That, coupled with other scholarships and a part-time job on campus, allowed Saenz to attend Grand Canyon University and create his own “Second Floor Memories.”
“I’m going to miss living on campus and everything that entails, all the events we do here and being surrounded by people. Wherever I move next will be a house or an apartment. There’s not going to be this community of college students. The people that live here — the Young Life students and Servant Scholars – you walk out the door and your neighbors go to school with you and you’re all on the same track.”
As one of the leaders of the Servant Scholar program (which has its origins in Young Life Ambassadors), Saenz has been responsible for helping set the agenda and create the environment that creates such goodwill on campus. He is a team leader for the Delta group of Servant Scholars, mentoring 12 students and meeting weekly with them to discuss the book “Lead Like Jesus.” He is a regular attendee of chapel. And he also serves four hours of ministry each week at Apollo High School, leading a Young Life Ambassadors group. Two members of that group are interested in following Saenz to GCU.
“When we meet these high school kids and bring them on campus and hang out with them, they fall in love with GCU,” Saenz said. “This is what college is supposed to look like. With the community of people we have here, it’s a good environment. You know, we’re not drinking, we’re having fun. They like that. Everyone wants to come here.”
Joy of graduation
Saenz is the only member of the initial Servant Scholar class to graduate this year. The program has evolved since its inception, broadening the pool of students from which to draw and adding more training and mentoring opportunities once they’re here so that it becomes more of a student-run organization that feeds off itself.
“It’s exciting (being the first graduate). I feel joy when I think about that,” Saenz said. “I know my mom and dad are proud.”
As for the actual graduation ceremony, Saenz said he has already thought about that, and “I feel like I’m probably going to cry. For my family… I have about 50 cousins total. And of them, only one has a degree. He’s almost 40 now. So I’ll be the second person in my family to graduate.”
Lance Schrader, director of Spiritual Life, said he is proud that Saenz is the first Servant Scholar graduate.
“Primarily because of Raul’s love for the Lord and his love for people. To me, he may not have a rock-star demeanor, but he has that ‘you can count on me’ demeanor,’” Schrader said. “That mentality that ‘You can always count on me, I’ll be there. I’ll cry with you, I‘ll laugh with you, I’ll be goofy with you.’ He will find a way to relate to people.
“Our four core values are integrity, humility, excellence and purity. And he embodies those four things.”
After graduation, Saenz hopes to use his degree in Christian studies to continue his work in ministry.
He has applied for a job with the Elevate civic program in which he would serve as a teacher/mentor for at-risk kids at Alhambra High School or North High School in Phoenix.
“The job is not secure yet. I’m praying for it,” Saenz said. “That would be a really great position to have. Elevate is a real successful program. For the kids that go through it, there’s like a 90 percent graduation rate.”
Saenz said that position will be filled in August. Until then, he is going to have one last fling at GCU, living on campus this summer while working part-time in the gym or call center.
“I’ll miss it… you know those Tuesday nights where everyone comes together and you don’t plan it. You just kind of hang out,” Saenz said. “But I believe God has something really good in store for me in this next year.”