Dawn of a new year: GCU rises up for Move-In
GCU News Bureau
Sunrise on Monday in Phoenix was at 5:54 a.m. But the first day of Welcome Week at Grand Canyon University didn’t need the sun to get spirits soaring.
It was right around that time – well ahead of schedule – when the first cars started rolling toward their assigned residence halls, the lines of purple-shirted student volunteers ready to greet them on both sides with more smiles than you’ll see in a thousand beauty pageants.
Move-In at GCU has become such a happening, such a thing, that everyone wants to be part of it – incoming students, their parents, volunteers, even volunteers on crutches and in knee braces who can’t do much more than lend moral support or carry something light. It’s the party you don’t want to miss.
For arriving families, it started when they first arrived on campus and were greeted by Pablo Ciscomani, GCU’s Clubs and Organizations Coordinator but on this morning a traffic coordinator.
“Come on in! Welcome home!” he shouted as he waved the cars through.
“C’mon! Energy! It’s only 5 a.m. – or whatever time it is!” one of the already amped-up student volunteers urged as another loaded-up car passed on Lopes Road.
But no greeting can match the “Woooooooo!” of the volunteers as cars make their way into the drop-off zone, their cellphone videos capturing the moment – and, often, it’s the driver who’s doing the video work.
Put it together with the music, the dancing and the pure joy, and it’s no wonder that you hear things like this from three Honors College freshmen witnessing it up close for the first time:
Zachary Covert: “I love seeing how it’s just a party and how welcome everyone feels.”
Caleb Morrow: “I’ve seen some videos, but I don’t think it could properly prepare me for what it actually is in person.”
Sofia Larrea-Betz: “I’ve helped my friends move into other colleges, and nothing’s prepared me for this.”
The temperature already was 90 degrees at this point, sizzling toward a high approaching 110. Sure, it’s hot, but Director of Welcome Programs Charity Norman still remembers her first year. It was 117 then.
“That’s a good frame of reference,” she said. “Anything less than that seems fine.”
Norman decided to get Move-In started earlier than the scheduled 6:30 a.m. because the cars already were in line and the volunteers were ready to go — their shift had been moved up by a half-hour this year. It made sense, especially in light of how many volunteers already were out there: They were everywhere, and the total number is 2,700, up from 2,100 a year ago.
The effect of the extra bodies was noticeable. At many points during the early part of Move-In, the cars couldn’t keep up with the volunteers. “Nice problem to have,” said Matt Lamb, GCU’s Campus Recreation Director-turned-traffic cop at Move-In.
Even a 14-foot U-Haul was emptied in less than two minutes. It was an exhausting pace, but the refrigerator-toting volunteers didn’t seem the worse for wear.
It’s what the party is all about.
Getting by with a little help from new friends
The heavy leg brace worn by junior Amanda Garcia did not stop her from volunteering.
“I have to be very careful, but the feeling of helping people just drives me,’’ she said. “For the most part, I can hold my own weight. I just want to thank God for giving me the courage and guidance to help my fellow students and friends out here. I really thank Him for letting me serve. I helped last year and fell in love with it, so I had to come back.’’
In a club rugby game versus UCLA on Feb. 18, Garcia stepped wrong and tore her anterior cruciate ligament and the meniscus in her right knee, requiring a seven-month post-operative recovery.
Gavin Thompson had both a brace and a crutch to get around, the result of knee surgery 3 1/2 weeks ago. But he was out there, too — just because. He simply wanted to wear his volunteer shirt and be around his peers, even if he couldn’t participate.
While Garcia and Thompson were ginger, Chaysé Hernandez was arguably the most athletic member of the Welcome Crew. He greeted each arriving family with a series of intricate dance moves: jumping, spinning, flipping and boogeying the morning away. The junior from Bagdad, Ariz., a tiny mining town in the western part of the state, became the first male member of his school’s dance team as a senior. He has been dancing ever since, developing new moves with the “Just Dance’’ game on the Wii, and via GCU’s Hip-Hop Club.
“I have been trying to keep the energy alive,’’ Hernandez said. “I know it is starting to get a lot more hot, so I am trying to keep the energy up so everyone keeps moving. I like doing the funny dances because they make people laugh.’’
Not all of the effort was dancing or heavy lifting; some of it required dexterity in tight, difficult-to-leverage spaces. In front of Acacia Hall, Muzii Khan, a sophomore from Pakistan, repeatedly crawled into the back of trucks and SUVs to pull out items to pass onto his peers.
“I am just here making new students feel comfortable, like home, because when I came, leaving my parents, leaving my home, it was not easy,’’ said Khan, who speaks three languages, including English and Urdu. “I understand being homesick. That’s why I am doing it this year.’’
Across the path from Khan, Antonio Borjas, also known as Astronaut Kid, loaded boxes while wearing his trademark NASA-style headwear.
“It is a blast getting all the incoming freshmen hyped up and seeing the looks on their faces as we are taking care of them while moving them in,” said the sophomore from Clovis, Calif., who was volunteering with his fellow Havocs leaders and friends.
Borjas started wearing the helmet to all high school events and has continued at GCU.
As a car with Colorado plates appeared in the distance, Makenzie Hackenberg and Miranda Krenek shrieked and sprinted toward the car.
Hackenberg, from Chaparral High School in Parker, Colo., and Krenek, from Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo., greeted a family that’s also from Parker.
“I ran after every Colorado car because I want to find out where they are from and find out their stories,’’ Hackenberg said. “I love meeting people from Colorado because it feels like home.’’
Krenek said, “I love meeting people from other states, too. I’ve met a ton of people from Washington. I’ve never been there and they tell me all these things.’’
A half-hour later, Idaho was represented by Alexander Phillips and her mom, Kellie, who drove 14 hours. They were followed onto campus by freshman Sarah Bennett, who drove her Love Bug by herself all the way from San Diego.
“I wasn’t nervous at all. I make a lot of drives,’’ she said.
‘This exceeds the stories’
Herminio Agliam couldn’t drive — he and his family live on Oahu, Hawaii. He flew the 2,900 miles to Phoenix to move his daughter, Honey Mae, into Willow Hall.
The native of the Philippines works two jobs in Hawaii, one in the hotel industry. Herminio would tell his daughter, Honey Mae, she didn’t have to work as hard as him. “Just concentrate on your studies.”
“But she’s a hard worker,” said her mom, Rhoda. Honey Mae worked two jobs in high school, traveled internationally to compete in broadcast journalism competitions as part of the Student Television Network and delved into an internship for family court.
The Agliams have no doubt she will work just hard at GCU, too, where the freshman will be studying forensic science.
Hundreds of students descended on vehicles pulling up to the front of Willow. They hauled 12-packs of paper towels, mega-packs of Twizzlers, countless mini refrigerators, microwaves, bath caddies, mattress covers and the like for the students arriving on campus for the first day of Move-In while one of the volunteers in the Willow lobby yelled, “Speed pack!”, asked, “What floor? What floor?” and directed volunteers to “Stay to the left!”
Volunteers sang to Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” yelled, “Welcome to college, the best four years of your life!” and danced the Floss as they greeted the new arrivals.
Though Herminio and Rhoda didn’t go to college, Honey Mae will be the second of their children to do so.
Herminio said of the high-energy, vibrant Move-In experience, which no one does quite like GCU: “It’s good fun. The students, they approach you. You can’t feel tired.”
Rhoda said she asked her daughter, “Why are you going (to school) so far away?” and worries about her daughter cooking her own meals and doing her laundry, but she was warmed by the reception at Move-In.
“They are so nice,” she said, pausing, then looking up. “It’s like family.”
Shannon Kama also traveled from Hawaii for Move-In with her son, freshman justice studies student Jordan Kahana Kama.
Shannon, who grew up in the Phoenix area, was overwhelmed, she said, by the traffic and the heat – the forecast was for a 107-degree day.
“I don’t drive on highways. I’m used to two lanes back in Hawaii,” she said.
“The affordable price for college,” she said.
And while traveling the Phoenix highways wasn’t at the top of her list, Kama said she’ll remember the electric atmosphere of Move-In: “It’s great! It’s so high-energy.”
Honors College freshman communications/psychology student Anne Holland of Fresno, Calif., was moving into Willow Hall around 8:30 a.m. Monday with help from her parents, Dave and Kim Holland.
Anne, a junior transfer college student, knew right away what led her to GCU: “God, actually,” she said. She wasn’t really feeling what she thought she would feel after visiting a few schools in California. “I was going to give it up to God.”
GCU came into the picture and, “It was what I needed,” said Anne, who loved the Move-In energy and how everyone has been “very, very supportive.”
Brad Walker of Colorado, who was moving daughter and freshman nursing student Paige Walker into Willow, was flabbergasted by the scene around him. He had heard about Move-In but didn’t really know it would be like this: “We heard stories. This exceeds the stories.”
‘So you all just, like, volunteer?’
An incoming freshman asked that simple question as he tailed the upperclassmen carrying his belongings into Canyon Hall on Monday. It showed how eye-opening GCU’s campus culture can be to newcomers … and how comforting it can be to parents.
Sometimes, comforting to the point of tears.
“That makes me sad, but I hope it’s happy tears,” junior Hailey Reese said as an emotional mother drove away from the Move-In line. “I hope they feel their kid will be safe here at GCU.”
Reese, a biology major, volunteered because of the positive experience she had as a freshman. She wants to make GCU feel like a second home to the new students — people like freshman Cameron Young, who plans on getting outside his comfort zone at GCU.
Young’s mother, Dee, was filming the scene out front of Canyon Hall, while his father, Mel, stood by her side and took it all in.
“It’s emotional in a positive way,” Mel said. “It’s reassuring that we sent him to the right place.”
Debra Graham had similar feelings when dropping off her son, Deion.
“Maybe next year he can do what these people are doing,” Graham said of the Welcome Crew volunteers. “I’ve heard so many wonderful things, that (campus is) diverse, cultured, academically focused. I think he will do very well here.”
Junior finance and economics student Sami Klopp was among the volunteers who helped Deion move in. Klopp was helping out in anticipation of his younger brother Josh’s move-in. He said he plans to take his brother under his wing at GCU.
“It’s cool to see all the energy and people making the freshmen feel welcome,” Klopp said.
Rick Vacek, Lana Sweeten-Shults, Theresa Smith and Ryan Kryska contributed to this report.