Thousands descend for jam-packed Family Weekend
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Johnae Hughes nixed the earrings and shed her shoes. She wanted to get as much traction as she could get, after all.
And then: Five, four, three, two, one!
In a frenzied dash down Lopes Way, she sprinted to the Lope Shop.
Rudolph may not have been there, but his antelope cousin, Thunder, was, running alongside Hughes, as if flames were under her feet, as she barreled to the shop, through a cheering crowd that lined the way, zipping past the GCU Band, which had just played “Sweet Caroline” a few minutes before, and whooshing past the cheerleaders.
Once inside the campus store, she had just 60 seconds to grab as much merchandise as she could – electronics and Hydro Flasks weren’t included – as the first winner of the Thunder Bolt shopping spree, one of the much buzzed-about events at an activity-packed Family Weekend, which took over the campus Friday to Sunday.
Hughes, breathless after her one minute of shopping-on-steroids, with Thunder beside her carrying some of her haul, ended up cashing out with about $2,800 worth of mostly GCU clothing.
“They (family members) all wanted me to grab sweatshirts and sweats and shirts,” the GCU freshman said.
Hughes’ mom, Savina Hughes-Thomas, was beaming: “I’m excited! I’m excited! I’m really excited! Because she didn’t believe. But I believed, and God is good.”
— Lana Sweeten-Shults (@LanaSweetenShul) October 7, 2017
Hughes-Thomas, who served in the Air Force for 25 years, said her daughter had cased the store before the Thunder Bolt and knew where everything was.
“She talked to everybody, and everyone was telling her what they want – and now we got it for free!” added Hughes-Thomas, who is from Honolulu.
The Thunder Bolt wasn’t the only thing going on for Family Weekend.
Dozens of campus organizations set up tables Saturday on the Promenade to raise funds and provide activities for the thousands of parents and siblings of GCU students who descended on campus. Some sold doughnuts, others sold cupcakes or nachos.
But the Biomedical Engineering Club did something a little different: They spent about a month building “Loperation,” a life-size version of the popular Operation board game, replacing the Operation patient with a new patient, Thunder. The game’s surgical tools were salad tongs, and whenever the tongs touched the aluminum foil, the game buzzed.
“We worked and worked and worked on this,” said Biomedical Engineering Club President Mary Mkrtchyan, including making a 3D-printed heart.
The HOSA-Future Health Professionals sold fruit cups and nachos.
“We’re just trying to spread awareness about mental illness,” said Alex Wagenman Jr., who, like Hughes and Hughes-Thomas, is from Hawaii, though he didn’t have family in town for the weekend.
Families in front of the Student Union were treated to music by such groups as the Critical Mass vocal ensemble and to campus performance groups, such as the highly entertaining CantaLOPES improvisational team, which played a game with the audience called the Beastie Rap.
An audience member shouted out a word, and the troupe created a rap based on that word: “It’s tall and green it’s called a tree! I was in prison, but now I’m free! I don’t know about you, but I know about me!”
Helen Jones traveled to GCU from Las Vegas with her husband, Joe, to visit their granddaughter, Cheyanna, a freshman criminal law student at the University. They were taking a break Friday night outside GCU Arena, where Midnight Madness was in full swing.
Helen said Cheyanna fell in love with the campus after a visit and wanted to attend the school: “We’ve been coming since she’s been here. We’ve been coming just about every other weekend. … That’s our baby!”
Helen said Cheyanna requested that they bring one thing from home: “Our money,” Helen said with a laugh.
Rachel Knowlton and her husband, J.P., stopped by the Parent Hospitality Corner reception area in Thunderground on Friday afternoon. They traveled from San Diego to visit their son, Trevor, a freshman.
“He came here for one of the overnights. He really liked it. … He just felt like this is the one,” Rachel said of Trevor’s reason for picking GCU.
The family planned on going to the Jeremy Camp concert Saturday night, and then they were going to do a family barbecue.
“He wanted barbecued steaks, so tonight we’re barbecuing,” J.P. said.
David and Becky Jimenez of Tuscon were bowling in Thunder Alley on Friday with their daughter, Grace, a GCU freshman pre-med student, and their two grandchildren, Ethan and Sienna.
Grace said the transition from high school to college has been “pretty easy” and that she picked GCU for its Christian environment.
The family said they “signed up for everything” they could on Family Weekend, which also included the Thunder Run 5K, a golf tournament, three club soccer games and two club softball games.
“She’s much more independent now,” Becky said of Grace. “She’s been growing personally and is awesome academically.”
Parent Council volunteers Todd and Sheri Henderson were busy Friday afternoon welcoming guests at the Parent Hospitality Corner.
“We have a child here (Abbie, a GCU cheerleader). We love GCU,” said Sheri.
Todd said he and Sheri have had just about every experience as college parents. Their son went away to college about 1,000 miles away, and now their daughter is only an hour away.
“We felt like we could help other parents. … We’re here to kind of ease their fears,” added Todd, who said they act as substitute parents sometimes and get a lot of hugs from students.
Chad Geaslen of Gilbert, Ariz., was in Thunderground on Friday playing foosball with daughters Emma and Aria, a freshman elementary education major.
Aria said she is adjusting to how to plan her time.
The family wanted to come to the campus, said Chad, “just to spend time with her.”
He added, “She seems to have grown up more. She’s grabbed a hold of responsibility and seems a lot more comfortable on campus.”
David Jimenez said of his daughter, Grace: “It’s been a month and a half (since dropping her off for college). We’ve seen changes in her. She seems older, wiser. We’re very proud of her and miss her a lot.”
Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at (602) 639-7901 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul