Who’s that cool cat in the hat? It’s Dr. Griffin
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
There was something different about the Grand Canyon University commencement ceremony Friday afternoon.
Was it the program? Nope, that hadn’t changed.
Was it the number of graduates? It was the biggest group of any of the four weekend sessions, but that wasn’t it, either.
It was subtler than that. It was, simply, a hat — the tam o’ shanter being worn by Dr. Tim Griffin, GCU’s pastor and dean of students.
Griffin usually is hatless when he leads the processional at the beginning and end of the ceremony, but this was when he officially would earn the “Dr.” before his name by getting his Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership: Organizational Development. And graduates of the College of Doctoral Studies wear that distinctive hat.
After much discussion beforehand about how the University would handle this, it was decided that nothing would be different except that Griffin would be the first doctoral graduate honored.
“I don’t need the attention,” he said of the understated approach. “I get enough.”
He did, however, start getting attention nearly three weeks earlier when GCU President Brian Mueller presented him with a plaque at Chapel to commemorate his achievement, and then the kidding by students began.
The personable Griffin, a former motorsports chaplain, is known as “Chappy” by many students, so, of course, he became “Dr. Chappy.” They took delight in saying things like, “Hey, I’ve got a rash. What should I do about that?”
But getting a doctorate is hardly a rash decision, and Griffin had to work hard to meet his goal of completing his dissertation, “What Engages a Commuter Student in Extracurricular Activities on a University Campus,” in less than 48 months. It took him 47½.
There were several obstacles:
- A demanding job.
- The fact that he hadn’t been a student for a while — his previous degrees were earned in 1982 (bachelor’s) and 1994 (master’s).
- And just the discipline of making it part of his nightly schedule.
“I’d get home, have dinner, watch a little TV news, and then I had to sit in front of the computer and get to work,” he said.
Griffin said it was “a little surreal” Friday afternoon when he left his seat on the dais and got in line to receive his doctoral hood and diploma with his entire family and his GCU colleagues watching.
Afterward, he still was a little dazed — not so much from the ceremony, but from the knowledge that it was finally over. His thoughts veered in several directions:
“It’s like detoxing, not that I’d know anything about that. I talked to someone about what it would feel like, and they told me it would take awhile to come down from it. Now I get it.”
“All of a sudden it’s over, but your system is still in gear.”
“So much of it is spiritual. It’s one of those experiences where you can feel God’s hand on it.”
And his most important thought:
“This is no honorary degree. I earned this.”
He also earned a fair amount of kidding when he discovered at the end of Friday’s ceremony that his tam and hood both had been put on him backward. With a little assistance, he made a quick adjustment before the final processional.
“I’m such a rookie at this,” he said, laughing.
But when it was time for the two Saturday ceremonies, Griffin passed on the hat — his head once again was covered with nothing more than his perfectly coiffed hair.
Where was the tam? “Back in the box,” he said. “I didn’t want to fool with it.”
That decision didn’t come without any grief, however; the other tam-covered doctoral grads in the processional let him have it. “I might have to break it out for the December commencement,” he said.
Maybe the students can talk Dr. Chappy into it.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.