Categories: AcademicsAlumniColangelo College of BusinessCollege of Doctoral StudiesCollege of Humanities and Social SciencesCollege of TheologyFeaturedOnline Life

Day 1 blog: Commencement at Comerica Theatre

By GCU News Bureau staff

The weather was unexpected – clouds and sprinkles in mid-March? – and the venue, Comerica Theatre, was unconventional by Grand Canyon University commencement standards. But the nearly 900 nontraditional graduating students in four colleges – Arts and Sciences, Theology, Doctoral Studies and Business – didn’t seem to mind.

The stage at Comerica Theatre in downtown Phoenix, scene of two days of commencement.

Rather, they poured into the downtown Phoenix concert hall with family and friends in tow, seemingly taking it all in stride, perhaps having become accustomed over the years to the detours life raises and adept at finding alternative routes to education.

Not to mention:  GCU faculty and staff turned out with smiling faces and heartfelt congratulations to assist with gowns and stoles, seat guests and point out the restrooms, and the theatre was beautifully decorated with University banners, grape-hued gladiolus and  giant purple screens. It was a perfectly lovely home-away-from-home for graduation, what with GCU Arena closed for renovation.

Day 2 of commencement is Saturday, when nearly 1,400 more nontraditional students from the College of Education and the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions are expected to graduate.

Brian Mueller, GCU’s president and CEO, was absent in the morning because his presence was required at a Western Athletic Conference meeting in Las Vegas. But he flew back to Phoenix in time for the afternoon session.

— Janie Magruder

Here’s some of what we heard and saw on Friday:


Jerry and Theresa Paul of Shiprock, N.M., arrived at Comerica Theatre at about 7 a.m., three hours early. While Theresa prepared to walk across the stage to receive her master’s in addiction counseling, Jerry settled his family – children Tatyana, 11, and Allannah, 7, nieces Marika Anagale, 13, and Jaylynn Mose, 11, and nephew Jared Mose, 8 – in the back of the theatre.

Theresa said she went back to school after her sister, Trista Benally, died from cirrhosis and a 19-year-old niece also died of alcohol-related causes. She plans to open a home for women with addictions. “I got into some trouble in 2007, and God opened some doors for me and made a plan for me,” said Theresa, who became a Christian that same year.

— Janie Magruder


Surrounded by family on Friday, Jordan Huff of Clarkdale celebrates a bachelor’s degree before turning 19.

We’re all going to work for Jordan Huff someday. And at Huff’s rate of speed, someday might be sooner than we think.

The 18-year-old from Clarkdale received his bachelor’s in business administration Friday afternoon as a group of nearly 50 family members and friends erupted in raucous cheers. Family came from as far as southwestern Missouri to share in the occasion.

Jordan, who had been home-schooled, blew through his GCU classwork online after entering with sophomore standing, thanks to proficiency exams and some classes he had taken at Yavapai College. Technically, he will finish in June — and graduate summa cum laude, no less.

“I figured there was no point in slowing down if I didn’t need to,” said Jordan, who never took a summer break in his studies and will turn 19 on April 2. He plans to work for a time in graphic design or marketing before considering the pursuit of a master’s degree, which his father, Craig, 44, received in 2010 from GCU.

“The online (format) fit his personality,” Craig said of Jordan. “He worked hard and kept his nose down.”

More Antelopes could be on the way from the Huffs. Jordan is the oldest of six children of Craig and his wife, Tobi. The youngest is 19 months.

— Doug Carroll


It’s a little after 8 a.m., and Dr. Michael Berger is giving instructions to a group of volunteers.

Wait, what is the associate dean of the College of Doctoral Studies doing arranging who goes where? Does it take someone really smart? Well, it does, but it also requires someone really dedicated. Berger has been the captain of the concierge staff for the last five years.

“It’s great,” he said while walking back and forth to make sure things were going smoothly with commencement. “Obviously, this is what we spent our entire existence here working toward, so it’s great to be part of it.”

— Rick Vacek


Dean of Students Pastor Tim Griffin delivered Friday morning’s invocation, reading from Philippians 2:5-8: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,  being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself  by becoming obedient to death  – even death on a cross!”

— Janie Magruder


The Gooding family from San Antonio was on hand to celebrate Richard’s degree in communications.

Much has changed in Richard Gooding’s life in the past three months. In December, he and his wife, Brandi, adopted 18-year-old Ashley, who had been in the foster care system and waiting for a permanent home for seven years after her five brothers and sisters already were adopted. She joined the San Antonio couple’s biological children, Ethan, 10, and Madison, 8. On Valentine’s Day, foster children Adam, 10, Shelby, 8, and Zoey, 5, joined the family, and they will be adopted soon.

And now, Richard, an audio-visual production specialist with a medical school for military veterans, is armed with a bachelor’s degree in communications that he hopes to use to expand his career. The Goodings packed all six kids into an RV for a camping trip at Lake Pleasant, northwest of Phoenix, before capping off their adventure with Richard’s graduation.

Brandi, who is pursuing an elementary education and special education degree at GCU, always wanted a blonde, blue-eyed daughter, and she got that in Ashley. Two weeks later, the Goodings were asked to take three more children.

“I felt God was giving us what we could handle,” Richard said.

— Janie Magruder


When you survive ovarian cancer, you have a lifetime pass to share life’s lessons learned. That’s what commencement speaker Karen Mills, a 5-foot-2, former All-America college basketball player did with grace and humor. (Mills also is a comedian who tickled the audience in telling about her cancer diagnosis that revealed cantaloupe- and grapefruit-size ovaries: “My muffin top was a fruit salad.”)

A recap of her wisdom, on the court and through cancer:

  • The journey to a better life isn’t easy, but it is worth it.
  • Follow your passion because that’s where God stores your gifts …
  • … and until you use the gifts God gave you, you will never be fulfilled.
  • Surround yourself with good people, identify their strengths and let them do their jobs.
  • Believe with your heart, learn all you can and have the courage to forge ahead.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  • Make it count: Live every day as if it is your last.

And this: “Don’t hold onto old wounds. Let those go. The greatest revenge is to be beyond thinking there’s a need for it.”

— Janie Magruder


Jerry Lucio

The losses were adding up for Jerry Lucio: the death of an infant son to a rare disease, the loss of his job as a Los Angeles police officer, the end of his marriage. “Years passed of walking in darkness and living life without Christ,” he said.

Then, in 2006, he began coaching volleyball — a sport he had played in high school and in the Marines — and a pathway became clear. Lucio soon set his sights on becoming a college coach, realizing he would need his degree to make that happen.

Enter GCU. And enter Lucio into a life that at one time seemed unattainable.

“Coaching has given me a purpose and lifted me up,” said Lucio, 37, who coaches boys’ volleyball at Horizon Honors, a charter school in Ahwatukee, and works as a manager in security for US Airways. His degree from GCU is in sports management.

“I have accomplished many things in my life,” Lucio said, “but none has given me a sense of rejuvenation like graduating from GCU…. There is no doubt that with Christ all things are possible, and if I did not reach up and grab His hand when He extended it to me, I would not be here today.”

— Doug Carroll


Joseph Lumpkins looked relaxed even though it was his first college graduation ceremony. He was in the Army when he got his bachelor’s degree, so this time he made a point to drive from his home in Sierra Vista, south of Tucson, to get his master’s in criminal justice.

Lumpkins is a government contractor. What does that mean, you ask? Don’t.

“It’s one of those jobs where if I told you what I do I’d have to kill you,” he joked. “We used to wear T-shirts that read, ‘My job is so secret even I don’t know what I’m doing.’”

Lumpkins started the GCU program in the spring of 2012 after trying the University of Phoenix and finding that a six-person team in class didn’t suit him because everyone got the same grade even though, in his view, he was one of only two people to do any work. With GCU, he said, “It’s all on me, which is the way I like it.”

Good enough for government work. Good enough for any work.

— Rick Vacek


Sherry Kirton, of Elk Grove, Calif., started college in 1987, but soon the babies started coming – Kaleb, 17, Kimberly, 11, Kelley, 9, and Krystien, 7 – and school was put on hold. Three years ago, when her husband, Keith, was diagnosed with colon cancer, Sherry decided she’d better get that degree, just in case the worst imaginable thing happened.

It didn’t – Keith is healthy again – and the entire family, plus Sherry’s mom and stepdad, Judy and John Jaeger, saw her graduate with honors with a bachelor’s in Christian studies. A youth minister at Peace Presbyterian Church, Sherry said she already is using her degree. “Everything I’ve learned I’ve been able to use right away with my students,” she said.

Appropriately, the family planned to visit the Grand Canyon this weekend for the first time.

— Janie Magruder


Annette Fuqua and daughter Alyce Young-Fuqua at commencement.

It takes plenty of teamwork in families for someone to get an online degree, especially when two people in the same family are students. But for Linda and Lory Feuerborn and Annette Fuqua and Alyce Young-Fuqua, being dynamic duos was huge.

“You get discouraged at times,” said Alyce, who got a bachelor’s in psychology. “The end goal was on focusing.”

Education is just a way of life for Annette, who added a master’s in public administration with an emphasis on health care to her earlier degrees in e-commerce, information management, transportation and linguistics.

Annette’s perseverance “means a lot,” Alyce said. “She’s always been my motivation, academics-wise.”

Linda (left) and Lory Feuerborn supported each other during college.

On the very day Linda Feuerborn started working on a master’s in counseling in December 2010, her daughter Lory was undergoing back surgery. Lory began her studies in early childhood education a month later.

“We had to push each other,” Linda said.

They walked together at commencement on Friday morning.

— Rick Vacek


Many traveled long distances to be at commencement, but Samuel Mata didn’t have to go far at all – he was born and raised in Glendale and lives in Phoenix. However, his journey was more difficult in another way: He has five children and is a behavioral health prevention specialist at Touchstone Rehabilitation. He added a master’s in psychology from GCU to go with his two undergraduate degrees in psychology and in religion and applied ethics.

“It’s just the field I love,” he said. “I want to help people.”

— Rick Vacek


Becky Barber, GCU’s social media specialist, and her assistant, Sam Brunner, spent the day approving text messages from the grads’ well-wishers. The volume was staggering: well over 2,500 texts per session.

After a text of SHOUT and a message sent to 78307, and following approval by Brunner, congratulations appeared on the big video screens on either side of the theatre’s stage. One even arrived in the form of a threat, Brunner said: “You’d better put up our message, because we haven’t seen it.”

Barber said texts were coming from all over the country. She said things were touch-and-go until Thursday, when GCU’s service provider finally came up with the new screen design needed for display at the theatre. At GCU Arena, texts were shown on the ribbon board circling the seating bowl.

— Doug Carroll


Staff Report :