By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
This story is hard work. Not the writing part – that’s easy, by comparison.
But as you listen to the stories of some of the Colangelo College of Business students who participated in spring commencement Thursday morning, you can’t help but feel as tired as they must be … but just as excited about their future as they most certainly are.
Up on the stage was Josh McGuire, selected to be the student speaker for the first of eight ceremonies spread over the next three days at Grand Canyon University Arena. He has been a font of entrepreneurship during his four years at GCU and also has been involved in seven clubs, often in leadership roles, as well as student government.
Out in the cap-and-gown crowd was Edgard Roldan, who endured a brutal community college schedule to earn admittance to GCU and then kept getting involved in new activities and ministries once he arrived on campus.
Another mortarboard-wearing participant was Jason Lucas, who worked two jobs while going to school, sometimes doing all-nighters, but still would bring doughnuts to his early morning classes and take an active role in classroom discussions.
How do they do it? Let us exhaust every detail:
McGuire talked in his speech about his favorite movie, “Braveheart.”
“As an entrepreneur, it’s a battle every day,” he said. “You’re going to fight for your dream and what you want.
“You can battle through. You can find a good business, support your family and do good for the community, and it all comes together. You just have to stay true and authentic to who you are as a Christian and keep your faith strong.”
His latest startup, Prophet Insight, is a classic example of trying to help the community – it aims to democratize big data for small businesses, starting right in GCU’s neighborhood. This comes after he was involved in the Storage Together team that won the Canyon Challenge, the Phoenix Smart City Hack and an international competition in Barcelona.
But McGuire is quick to credit Luke Amargo for dreaming up Storage Together and Braeden Scheer for suggesting Prophet Insight. “I always think of myself as the second in command to a strong entrepreneur,” he said. The sizzle McGuire adds is in brainstorming sessions, where he beefs up the idea to something that can be taken to market.
“The ideas for me really come whenever it’s, ‘Here’s the big, broad vision. OK, so we want to democratize big data. Here’s how we might go about doing that. Here’s what the technology is going to require,’” he said.
“That entrepreneurial spirit, I think, is in most people; they just maybe don’t embrace it as much.”
McGuire started embracing it in high school, when he started a T-shirt business called Passion First Apparel. “We didn’t realize that a T-shirt line wasn’t exactly innovative,” he said, laughing.
When he got to GCU – he had been home-schooled before that – he intended to be a double major in Christian studies and finance.
“People asked me, ‘How are you going to combine those two?’ The tie-in, for me, was Conscious Capitalism, Jerry Colangelo and all the business ideas that were around, and the fact that you can take faith and actually make it applicable in business. They’re not so very distinct from each other,” he said.
He arrived at almost the same time as Dr. Randy Gibb, who became the CCOB dean in 2014 and then started bringing in top-shelf entrepreneurs as instructors. McGuire morphed into a finance and economics major who’s minoring in Biblical studies and entrepreneurship and is grateful for all the help he has gotten along the way.
“There’s never been a professor that I’ve gone to and asked for help or advice and they said they’re too busy,” he said. “They’re very intentional about what they’re doing. A lot of them, they choose to do it for us. It takes us to another level.
“If you are getting that amount of time and you’re at this level, then we expect a lot more of ourselves. I think it motivates us.”
Next up for McGuire, besides seeing where Prophet Insight takes him (he’ll have a business space at GCU), is to get married. He and fiancée Vanessa Cooper, a 2016 GCU graduate who works in the GCU Library, have set an Oct. 27 wedding date.
But no matter what happens in the next six months, it probably won’t be as stressful as what he’s been doing.
“Some of those days you’re up at 7 and you’re done at 9 at night,” he said. “Well, that’s college. You’re just learning and you’re plowing through and you’re having a good time doing it because you’re doing things that you love.”
Roldan speaks with such fire and passion, it’s as if he’s preaching a sermon. He’s determined to be a shining light to the world, but he knows that means being a shining example, too.
“I want to make an immediate impact,” he said. “I see myself as being able to influence a lot of people, but I can’t just talk about this, I have to put in the work and be prepared.”
Roldan put in the work, he said, after his high school grades left him shy of admittance to GCU. He was so intent on coming to campus, he took a maniacal number of community college classes, raised his GPA and then didn’t stop once he got to Phoenix. Besides leading tours around campus, volunteering on neighborhood ministries such as Canyon Kids, and maintaining photography and graphic design businesses, he treasured working as a junior counselor.
“My main joy is to be able to talk with the students who aren’t admissible into GCU,” he said. “I’ve had students crying, I’ve had students who are motivated, I’ve had students who say, ‘You’ve changed my life.’
“Sometimes I’d be on the phone with them for an hour and a half. I’d tell them, ‘You are the only one that can stop you from following your dreams. If you believe in yourself, anything is possible and nothing can stop you.’”
He had a similar message for the other residents in Willow Hall. He wound up living there because he was only 19 – it’s usually for freshmen only – even though he was scheduled to graduate in a year, and he’s glad he did.
But here’s the thing: He never told them he was so far ahead of them in the GCU continuum, on the verge of getting his B.A. in Business Administration.
“I think that has been the biggest blessing of my life because it gave me the opportunity to mentor my peers,” he said. “Their goals may not be where my goals are, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have a relationship with them. I never wanted my advancement in my education to be a barrier to our friendship. I wanted to be viewed as a friend and not a senior.
“As I advance in my life I’ve learned that everyone has their own purpose and goals in life. Although they may be different than mine we are all on the same mission — and that is to make the world a better place.”
It seems as if every time you see Lucas, he’s carrying a pizza. There’s a reason for that.
When he wasn’t going to class or working 30-60 hours a week for an accounting firm, he was helping out at Papa John’s. “I don’t need to work there, but I help out my general manager when she’s short-staffed,” he said.
That meant handling some of the daily deliveries to campus, a role he kiddingly calls “pizza relocation specialist.” It made for the hardest stretch of time he can recall since boot camp in the Navy (he served for three years, including two on a submarine), but he was determined to make this work for him and his wife, Nikolina, who’s working toward a master’s in cybersecurity from GCU.
“I’m a very personable individual, and I can adapt to many situations,” he said. “I learn in class by participating with the instructor. If you participate in class and show an effort, professors are willing to help you network to get into that next step.”
One of the professors who saw his ability to think outside the pizza box was Dr. Kelly Damron, who helped him land a seasonal position as an accountant, then cash that in with a full-time spot that begins next week.
“He thinks more strategically than most of my students, and while his age may help because he is more mature than normal traditional undergrad students, he has a gift some people never develop,” she said. “Being able to think strategically and creatively, as an accountant, is rare.”
He’s determined to pay her back – and any other professor who wants students to hear his positive attitude — long after he has started using his accounting degree.
“I feel like I owe a debt to my professors,” he said. “I’m willing to do whatever I can to make my professors’ classes better in the future, and anything I can do to volunteer, I’m willing to do. I will be a very satisfied alum of this university.”
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.