Emotions find way into Hall of Fame celebration
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
For seven of the eight inductees into the Alumni Hall of Fame at Grand Canyon University, the only thing more difficult than keeping their composure Saturday was finding their way around the rapidly changing campus.
Directions weren’t a problem for the other recipient, Michael Kary. He works here. And maybe that’s why, out of eight speeches that were Hall of Fame-worthy, Kary’s was the most emotional.
Kary, an accomplished actor who is a professor in the College of Fine Arts and Production, was as polished in his speech as you might expect, but he choked back tears after he mentioned the recent passing of Paul Bridgeman, a GCU theatre instructor from 1990 to 2006. He then gave a humble, heartfelt talk about what the honor means to him and how blessed he is.
It began with humor as Kary took the stage to a huge ovation from a large number of COFAP students in attendance — a lot more than the prescribed limit of 20 guests for each honoree at the gala on the second floor of the Student Union.
“I brought a few more than 20,” said Claude Pensis, the COFAP dean and Kary’s presenter.
Right on cue as he got the microphone, Kary deadpanned, “They live here, and there’s free food.”
Huge roar from the crowd. Best moment of a day with lots of great ones.
Kary talked about how, when he left GCU, his goal was to be famous. But as time has gone on, he has been reminded again and again that “the pursuit of applause is vanity at its finest.” His focus, instead, is on what God has done for him.
“God says, ‘You can look to me for an applause that doesn’t end, that will never fade away,’” Kary said.
Pensis was equally moved by the opportunity to honor his longtime friend, saying later, “It’s really nice when you have known him for that length of time and know him so well. He very much embodies GCU.”
The other inductees also embody GCU and talked glowingly of their time at the University and what it did for them. Some snippets, in the order in which they spoke:
MITCHELL LAIRD (Colangelo College of Business) talked of how when he first got to what was then a tiny cluster of buildings, he thought, “This must be the campus annex.” After Saturday’s celebration, he was amazed by how challenging it was just to find his way from the Union to GCU Arena, where a dinner for the inductees was held — and, unlike some of the others, he’s been away from campus for only a few years.
DR. STEPHEN HALL (College of Science, Engineering and Technology) has had a ground-breaking career in molecular medicine and biomedical engineering and said, “Canyon enriched me in a spiritual basis and prepared me educationally for graduate school.”
DR. TIMOTHY SIEGES (College of Humanities and Social Sciences) said he “needed to be discipled” when he came to GCU and fell in love with the Bible here thanks to instructors such as the late D.C. Martin. His takeaway: “The hardest thing you’ll ever do is not that you’ll die for Christ. The hardest thing that you’ll ever do is live for Him.”
DR. JAMES WHITE (College of Theology) was standing in a mosque in South Africa last year and thinking about how GCU prepared him for his life work as a Christian apologetic. He said that when he told his father that he was scrapping his plan to go to military school and instead wanted to pursue a career in ministry, his father got him the books that started him on the path toward learning Greek — a path he continued fervently at GCU.
MAGGIE KIGEN (College of Nursing and Health Care Professions) expressed gratitude for the extraordinary things GCU officials did for her, such as giving her a new laptop after hers was stolen. She also told a hilarious story of how keeping close track of the time was such a challenge for her when she first came to GCU. In her native Kenya, she said, you might show up for a 10 a.m. appointment at 11 or 11:30 and think nothing of it, but here she quickly found that class started right at the top of the hour. And spelling all of the complicated medical terms was particularly challenging for her because English was her second language. “Today I still have an accent, but I spell correctly,” she said. “And I clock in every morning before 7 o’clock.”
CALVIN BAKER (College of Education) never expected to spend 42 years in education. In fact, he enrolled in real estate school after he graduated. Now that he has been superintendent in the Vail School District in the Tucson area for 26 years, his perspective is this: “If I hadn’t found my path at GCU, I doubt I would have found that path at another college. … Over and over again, I’ve just happened to be at the right place at the right time with just the right people.”
HORACIO LLAMAS GREY (Athletics) had a prepared speech … and didn’t use any of it. Instead, he just talked. Talked about growing up in Mexico and his life there today. Talked about coming to Pima Community College and then to GCU, where the intimate size of the small campus reminded him of the small Mexican town in which he had grown up. But his best stories were about South Dakota, where he played for four months in the Continental Basketball Association after he was signed by the Phoenix Suns. When the Suns finally brought him up, he ditched all his winter clothes even though he was on only a 10-day contract. “I wasn’t going back,” he said.
Most poignantly, Llamas Grey said he plans to one day bring his three children to GCU and show them the place that means so much to him. And it’s a feeling that goes both ways.
“One of the things we never want to forget,” said Brian Mueller, GCU’s president and CEO, “is that we stand on the shoulders of a lot of greats from the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.”
They just need a little advance warning that the place has changed a little — in the way it looks, not in the way it feels.
Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.