For GCU’s CEO and Class of 2012, Arena Makes All the Difference
By Bob Romantic
GCU News Bureau
Overheard outside Grand Canyon University in the days leading up to graduation ceremonies at GCU Arena:
“Guess what? You’ll never believe this. I’m on the campus. It’s unbelievable,” one woman said on her cell phone as she talked to friends or family back home.
It’s a scene that played out many times as graduates descended on GCU’s ever-growing campus and the University prepared to host commencement ceremonies for the first time in its new Arena.
And it’s a scene that GCU’s chief executive officer, Brian Mueller, said made Thursday’s opening day of graduation even more special.
“The working adult students, even though they’ve earned their degree and done most of their coursework online, they love coming here,” Mueller said. “They love being on the campus. They love being in Grand Canyon’s Arena. It’s so much closer and intimate. I think it’s a much more special experience for them.”
Nord Bullock, 39, a police officer from Houston, said there was no way he was going to miss going through graduation ceremonies. He graduated with a degree in Christian studies alongside his wife Bernadette (degree in psychology) and his brother and sister-in-law Daron and Maryland Willis (degrees in Christian studies) of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
“Going to school online saved me a lot on gas,” Nord Bullock said. “This is one time I don’t mind spending the gas money.”
Past graduations for GCU had been held at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix and at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, with one large 5- to 6-hour ceremony for everyone at the University. Smaller college convocations were held at large churches near campus.
This year, graduation was broken up into four shorter ceremonies – with the Colleges of Business, Christian Studies, Arts and Sciences, and Fine Arts and Production on Thursday, followed by the Colleges of Nursing, Education and Doctoral Studies on Friday. Convocations were discontinued.
So far, so good for the University.
Thanks to employees who parked off-site and took a shuttle to the campus, there were no parking issues on Day 1 for guests. The Arena itself was big enough to host the graduating students, families and friends for the two Thursday ceremonies. That will be tested on Friday when the larger Nursing and Education colleges hold their commencements. A contingency plan is in place to show the ceremonies via live Web streaming at Ethington Theatre for any overflow crowd.
“Our staff has done an unbelievable job,” Mueller said. “The parking; getting people in the right place; getting them their robes; getting their friends and family into the Arena. … There have hardly been any complaints. This is the first time we’ve done it on our campus, and it has gone very well.”
Mueller also had praise for the New Life Singers, who performed prior to the ceremonies, and for the main speaker, artist Erik Wahl, who dazzled the audience with his motivational message and on-the-spot portraits of history-making figures such as Albert Einstein, Bono, John Lennon and Steve Jobs.
“It was different, it was provocative, it was interesting,” Mueller said of Wahl’s performance art. “Ninety-nine percent of all graduation speeches are forgotten five minutes after they’ve been given. People won’t forget this one.”
But, more than anything, Mueller enjoyed having one of the best seats in the house for ceremonies that went off without a hitch.
“I sit close to where they walk up and you can see the emotion in their eyes and see it in their faces before they hear their names and walk across the stage,” he said. “It’s really, really important to them. That’s always the best part of graduation, but I think it’s really, really special this time because of the Arena and because they’re on campus.”
Contact Bob Romantic at 639.7611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.