Determination pays off with Colangelo Scholarships
“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” — Colin Powell
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
The class is called AVID. That stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination.
It teaches students at Westwood High School in Mesa organizational and notetaking skills and helps them learn how to deal with an accelerated-learning environment. And it’s one of the many classes that Denice Ledezma has attacked with such, well, determination.
Her reward arrived Monday morning, when she became one the Phoenix-area high school students granted a full-tuition scholarship to attend the Colangelo College of Business at Grand Canyon University. And her AVID teacher, D.J. Spetz, was equally determined to praise her.
“She’s phenomenal,” he said. “She goes above and beyond in everything she does. She’s constantly here working, helping others. Gets outstanding grades. Does anything you ask her to do. She’s excellent.”
Later Monday morning at Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, Tierney Gallagher — who has shown an equal amount of determination — received her Colangelo Scholarship. Tuesday morning at Paradise Valley Christian Preparatory in Phoenix, Areina Wilson was the grateful recipient, and her family’s story is one of determination and faith that knows no bounds.
The Colangelo Scholarships are named in honor of Jerry Colangelo, the namesake of GCU’s business college who is known as much for his character, integrity and servant leadership as he is for his unmatched accomplishments in sports and business.
Willing to take charge
Ledezma, who had planned to attend GCU and just work her way through school, admitted the scholarship was a “huge surprise,” and there was no doubting that from the looks of her reaction. She broke into tears as the GCU contingent, led by Thunder, walked into the classroom and she realized what was going on.
But she was very much in control of her interview for the scholarship. Dr. Randy Gibb, the CCOB dean, loved her demeanor in that situation.
“Before we said anything, she took over the interview, handed us her resumé and her transcripts and owned the interview,” he said. “We were just so impressed with her. It was really neat how confident and articulate she was.”
The lifelong Mesa resident said she got turned on to the GCU spirit when she attended a basketball game with her sister Dayana, who just graduated. Denice hasn’t yet decided whether to major in business administration or business finance.
One thing’s for sure: She’ll work at it. Her father, Ramiro, remembered all the times she would be up until 1 a.m. doing homework. “I’m very proud of my daughter,” he said.
Nothing was going to gum it up
You want to talk determination? Gallagher showed hers last month when she went to her interview for the Colangelo Scholarship three days after having her wisdom teeth taken out. She could barely talk.
“I just tried to be precise in what I said,” she recalled.
Her parents, Sean and Elizabeth, said that tracks with how she handles her business – certainly an appropriate trait for a CCOB student. She booked the Colangelo appointment herself, and nothing, not even oral surgery, was going to keep her from it, just as nothing was going to keep her from getting involved in high school.
“She’s definitely a self-starter, self-motivated,” Elizabeth said. “She’s keeping us in line. She was even in more clubs at school than we knew about. She did her resume and said, ‘Can you look it over, check it and print it out for me.’ I’m like, ‘When did she get into all these clubs?’”
One of those was the Chefs Club, of which she was president. She concentrated on culinary classes at Mountain Pointe, attended the East Valley Institute of Technology for a year and a half, and wants to study hospitality management at GCU.
“EVIT made me realize I didn’t necessarily want to be a chef, but I want to be in the hotel business and work with people,” she said. “I found something I liked and something I could make a career out of.”
Her full name is Tierney Patricia Gallagher. Her dad is Sean Patrick Gallagher. But Sean and Elizabeth have raised their three daughters to rely on themselves, not just the luck o’ the Irish.
“The important thing is that when the kids leave they can be self-sufficient in society,” Sean said. “All our girls are that way.”
Achieving excellence against all odds
Like Ledezma, Wilson was shocked when a surprise outdoor assembly was called 10 minutes before the ceremony and then she was called to the front. “I’m really surprised that I got it. I’m really excited,” she said.
The news came a day after she was told she will be the valedictorian at graduation next week, and it’s an equally huge blessing for her mother, Dorina, a single parent who was working three jobs when she became the Paradise Valley Christian physical education instructor in February.
Dorina got the call about Areina’s scholarship Friday and was sworn to secrecy. “All weekend I was on pins and needles. I probably lost three pounds,” she said.
Also in on the secret were her other two children, son Jacob and daughter Desiree, so they could be there, and their presence made it readily apparent that this is no ordinary parent. Jacob graduated from GCU and now is working on his MBA, and Desiree also was the PVCP valedictorian and now attends Arizona Christian University next door.
Anyone who has raised children alone can identify with her story – and her strong will. Dorina tells of living in the back of her parents’ house for four years (“I thought it would be a year”), cleaning houses with the help of her kids to pay the food bill and using tax-credit dollars to keep her kids at a private Christian school she considers part of her family.
And any parent can identify with how she feels about Areina. The name is Spanish for “a queen.”
“She’s not only an incredible student, she’s an incredible worship leader,” Dorina said. “A leader. Character. Integrity. I’ve been blessed three times.”
She’s so excited about Areina’s college choice, she wants to recruit for the University and even get a degree from GCU. She even talks about adopting a son — her kids asked her to — but plans to be at PVCP, which Areina has attended since preschool, for a long, long time.
“Now I’m full-time staff the year she’s graduating. The year she’s graduating!” Dorina said. “I didn’t want to leave. So praise God.”
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.