Alhambra students unite as one at GCU event

June 02, 2016 / by / 0 Comment

“Believe and Achieve,” now in its fourth year, welcomed more than 1,000 Alhambra High School students to GCU for a campus tour and to hear from university representatives and a speaker who brought laughter, tears and even led some students to ask for forgiveness.

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Story by Jeannette Cruz
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau

More than 1,000 students from Alhambra High School were challenged Wednesday to believe in themselves and confront their own prejudices in an emotional event at Grand Canyon University that brought many to tears.

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Alhambra students were called to believe in the endless opportunities college can offer.

The “Believe & Achieve” event, now in its fourth year, exposes high school students to college life in a way that opens their minds to endless possibilities.

“Students like the learning experience here,” said Claudio Coria, Alhambra High School’s outgoing principal. “They value it and they appreciate it.”

The students, who were seated in GCU Arena’s north end, were welcomed by Provost Dr. Hank Radda, who urged them to go the extra mile to attain success.

“We want to provide the way, but it has to come from you,” Radda said. “Whatever you do, just do five hours extra than the next person. Work a little later, study a little more, do a little more … that’s all it takes.”

Youth motivational speaker and founder of the Social Centric Institute in Phoenix, Calvin Terrell, used his time on the floor to explain that ignorance becomes pervasive in society when society moves through life within a comfort zone —  much like a “bubble” — and the only way to succeed is by venturing out of that “bubble.”

His jumping-off point was a Mayan-inspired poem, “Pensamiento Serpentino” by Luis Valdez, which explores the themes of civil rights and liberation. Terrell encouraged students to be more aware of the diversity at Alhambra High School to eliminate any “bubbles” separating them from one another.

“My point is not to shock you or sensationalize anything. It’s to paint a real picture about what’s going on in our world and what we have to do… We have to transform the way we treat each other,” Terrell said.

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Youth motivation speaker Calvin Terrell addresses a crowd of over 1,000 Alhambra High School students and staff.

Terrell exposed the many ways prejudices are created throughout society by beginning with simple, 10-second conditioning games and activities. Then, he sat in a chair facing the large crowd to show and tell the lives of four different children living in different situations. The first — a child of an alcoholic parent. The second — a child who has to deal with favoritism among his family. The third — a child who has been neglected by his parents. And the fourth — a child who takes unconditional love for granted.

After his presentation, some sat in silence, others whispered among themselves and some wiped tears from their eyes and walked to the microphone to ask for forgiveness. When Terrell asked students if they were familiar with any of these situations, hands went up one by one.

“These are the ‘bubbles.’… Let’s build each other up instead of break each other down,” Terrell said.

He emphasized the need for people who are eager to learn and who will fight for unity.

“You’re here right now taking charge of your education so you’re already a step ahead,” Terrell said. “You’re already in the mindset of wanting to learn… Too many people are closed – maybe because of pain in their life, maybe because they think they’re superior or inferior, or maybe because they’ve been so tricked.”

Students also heard from Karen Cardenas, Alhambra High School’s new principal, who talked about using the past as a guide to the future.

“At Alhambra we are smart, we work hard and we use our life experiences to guide our futures – whether they are good or bad. We want you to think ‘college bound’ and we are going to show you how,” Cardenas said. “A long time ago someone told me, “You’re not college material, you should consider going to work. How ironic that 20-plus years later I’m running a high school.”

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Students were called up to their feet to dance at the Arena floor.

The Los Angeles native, who began teaching in 2001, said her goal is to continue making a difference in the local community.

“What I like about GCU is the way they have embraced the community at all levels — from supporting the neighborhood, to giving our kids full-ride scholarships and embracing job support,” Cardenas said. “I’m looking forward to a great year and collaborating with this University. We’re going to do some amazing things together.”

Arlin Guadian, GCUs Learning Lounge program coordinator, said it is never too early to make students aware of the resources available at GCU.

The Learning Lounge was developed in partnership with Alhambra High School in 2012 as part of GCU’s Strategic Educational Alliances Department and the University’s five-point plan to revitalize west Phoenix. Alhambra went from being a D-rated school by the Arizona Department of Education to now nine points away from being a “B” school in just three years.

“We care about our community, our students and our families,” she said. “We’re working together to accomplish the goal of believing and achieving by getting a college education to better their situations.”

Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or

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