They prepared, they persevered … they prevailed
GCU News Bureau Staff
Graduating from a university is all about preparation and perseverance, and doing it in less than four years makes it even more difficult.
The biggest crowd ever for a Grand Canyon University graduation ceremony got to witness that first-hand Friday afternoon as 798 graduates — many of whom arrived at GCU just 3½ years ago — celebrated their achievements during winter commencement.
Kaylee Caudill, the student speaker, put it best when she noted all the hard work she and her classmates had done and said, “These last few years have taught us how to persevere, even in the face of adversity.”
At the end of the ceremony before a standing-room-only crowd, GCU President Brian Mueller made it a point to articulate the devotion of the graduates to Chapel and The Gathering and also to helping neighborhood children.
“What I will remember most,” Mueller said, “is how you served not just each other, but that you served God and this neighborhood.”
The stories of the grads kept coming back to the preparation and perseverance theme.
Yamini Koyee, who graduated Friday a bachelor of science in biology with an emphasis in pre-medicine, said her education at GCU has been “amazing” and has prepared her to apply for medical school.
“They have the best teachers here,” said Koyee, who intends to apply to Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and Midwestern University in Glendale.
She said her favorite professor is Dr. Mark Wireman because he gave so much of himself to help his students.
For example, he videotaped and posted videos after anatomy sessions to reinforce what the students had done in class that day and give them every opportunity to learn, Koyee said.
“I used to go to his office hours, and he spent so much time explaining everything to me,” Koyee said. “He even took us hiking.”
That, she said, was part of understanding the biology of exercise and the brain.
Brenda Torres, who also graduated with a degree in biology with an emphasis in pre-medicine, said the professors at GCU provide direction and support.
“I like how they pushed us,” Torres said.
Steven Meythaler, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, said the program prepared him for his next step: a master’s degree in Counseling with an Emphasis on Childhood and Adolescent Disorders.
His career goal is to help kids who experience traumatic events.
“I want to give them the outlet to discuss it and help them grow strong,” he said.
Jordan Bader and Valerie Morales, who graduated with degrees from the College of Education, are preparing for their new jobs. Bader will teach geometry at the Sequoia Pathway Academy charter school in Maricopa, and Morales will teach first grade near GCU at Alhambra Traditional School.
They said the college provided the education they needed to go into their preferred field.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” Morales said.
Brandon Lee, an Elementary Education major, admits that deciding his field of study was a journey. Initially, he hoped to become an FBI agent, only to learn that crime fighting wasn’t his passion.
Instead, he felt called to renew society through education. Finally, it was during his coursework that he found a passion for teaching special education.
“I feel very comfortable with my decision,” Lee said. “My journey was challenging at times, but, ultimately, when it comes to teaching, it’s about doing your best every day.”
The Buckeye native proudly displayed his colorfully decorated mortarboard that read, “See the abilities, not the disabilities.”
Lee recently was hired to work as a teacher at Verrado High School, where he also plans on coaching the women’s basketball team.
For Lee, one of the best parts of his journey at GCU, was meeting his fiancee, Bristol Bailey, after an intramural basketball game. Their wedding date is Feb. 25.
Lee said he intends to return to GCU for his master’s in Business Administration.
Allyanna Panganiban needed five years to graduate, but she deserves extra credit for persevering through her journey. She said the one thing she has learned is to always confide in God, even in tough times.
The 24-year-old, who graduated with her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, spent time searching for her passion and changed her major once. Then, last summer, she lost her boyfriend of five years, Ben Gayongala, in a car accident.
“It’s a part of my testimony, and I use that to tell people that hard times in your life are OK — with God you can get through it,” said Panganiban.
Although it took her a little longer than most students and a lot of her strength, Panganiban said she is proud to have finished, adding that Ben would have been, too.
“He wanted me to graduate, so this is for him,” she said.
Arantxa Moreno, a major in business in administration, enthusiastically showed off her yellow, blue and red mortarboard, representing her home country, Venezuela.
“It has been very different, but with the support of my family I am able to say that I am graduating from college today,” said, Moreno, who came to America eight years ago and discovered a genuine passion for business.
“Although my goal is to be a lawyer, I am eager to use my degree to gain more knowledge about how the world works,” she added.
She described her experience at GCU as “a blessing and the best choice” she could have ever made. In addition to her studies, Moreno was involved in numerous clubs and organizations including Student Engagement, Student Leadership and the Associated Students of GCU. She even traveled to Spain.
“I have a huge passion for people and for culture, and I was able to have that incredible experience here,” Moreno said. “I just hope that when people remember me they can say that I helped GCU continue to be a campus that is diversity aware.”
● Click here for the story of one woman who wasn’t able to graduate Friday because of cancer but has recovered and is ready to return to GCU.
Jeannette Cruz, Laurie Merrill and Rick Vacek contributed to this story.