Impactful commencement hits home with graduates

December 15, 2017 / by / 0 Comment

Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Slaven Gujic
GCU News Bureau

Used in the right way, impact can be a powerful force for good. Grand Canyon University is sending off its latest graduating class confident that it is on a collision course with success.

That was the main message Friday at winter commencement. President Brian Mueller addressed it in his talk when he said, “You’ve made a huge impact here in everything you’ve done, both on the campus and off the campus.”

Dr. Rick Rigsby’s keynote address was animated and filled with energy.

Many of the grads he was thanking earned their degree in fewer than four years – an anomaly for many in higher education. It is strongly encouraged at GCU, however.

“The cost of education is so much smaller this way,” GCU Provost Dr. Hank Radda said. “That’s part of Brian’s vision – how do you get a kid from high school to the working world as effectively as possible?”

One of the ways you do it is by honoring extra credits from high school and transfer credits from community colleges and other universities. But it also is a mindset for the student. As the keynote speaker, Dr. Rick Rigsby, put it in his powerful talk, “You are what you repeatedly do,” and these grads were consistent in their repetition.

The best example is Melodie Bennett of Mesa, who got her degree, Christian Studies with an Emphasis in Youth Ministry, in just 2½ years. It’s as if she just got here.

“I can remember moving in two years ago, and it’s hard to believe I’m standing here now,” she said. “It happened so fast.”

Despite her short stay, it’s not as if she just studied, studied and studied some more and missed out on college life. She was in the Honors College and a member of GCU’s student apologetics club, Defenders.

And then there were the Havocs – she loved being part of the nationally acclaimed student cheer section. “I’m definitely going to miss that,” she said.

Graduates enjoy a laugh during the ceremony.

But Bennett is graduating with a clear purpose in mind: While working at Grand Canyon National Park last summer, she saw that the churches in that area didn’t have any youth groups. She wants to start one.

First things first, though. She feels as if she needs to take a breath for a moment and grasp the scope of her accomplishment – and what’s ahead.

“I’m only 20, and I’ve got to figure out what I’m doing,” she said.

That was one of the themes among other graduates who were polled. They all accomplished the feat in 3½ years, and it was a day of mixed emotions – happy to be done with studying and exams (at least until grad school, in some cases) but sad that their GCU experience is over.

“College was the best time of my life,” said Emily Stolz, a biology major who regularly took 20 credits per semester (most students take 12 to 16).

“I will miss it,” said Leah Martinez, who earned her degree in Christian Studies with an Emphasis in Global Ministry. “GCU has a special place in my heart, and it’s hard to leave.”

Getting that diploma is an emotional moment for many grads.

Martinez is heading off to what promises to be quite an adventure. She’s scheduled to leave next May for Mexico to work at an orphanage run by Beth Guckenberger, a frequent Chapel speaker at GCU.

“She’s an amazing woman,” Martinez said. “Definitely one of my heroes, for sure.”

Rachel French of Fort Collins, Colo., didn’t try to hide her glee over graduating early with a degree in Biology with an Emphasis in Physical Therapy. “I would recommend it 10 of 10,” she said.

In fact, she wishes she had known which high school credits would transfer – she could have graduated even earlier. But she still said, wistfully, “I’ll miss the campus and the friendships.”

That also was the sentiment of Timothy Rudiger of Chino Valley, whose degree is in Digital Film. He wants to become a director but will miss the way his GCU experience scripted out. “I had a lot of fun here,” he said.

But besides enjoying campus life, these also were students who made an impact here and now will look to do the same in a troubled world. As Rigsby urged them, “You are needed more than any other time in history to go out and make an impact.”

They no doubt will meet the challenge head on, with more extra credit.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or

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