Grad fulfills 43-year-old letter from Grand Canyon
Story by Ryan Kryska
Photos by Travis Neely
GCU News Bureau
When Brian Smith, 60, walks across the stage Friday afternoon for the final steps of his online master’s degree in Nursing, in his coat pocket will be a copy of a 43-year-old typewritten note from Grand Canyon College.
A 17-year-old Smith received the letter in 1975 when his family lived in Phoenix. He was a junior at Alhambra High School when he applied to Grand Canyon. But he never got a chance to attend.
“Unfortunately, we moved back to Ohio and so that dream was taken away,” Smith said. “But I did not tear up the letter like you would expect people to do. It’s in pristine condition. I haven’t kept any other letters in my life, but it has my address on it where I lived at the time, and it was a very nice letter.”
Smith keeps a scrapbook called “The Story of My Life” at his home in Ohio. He had kept the letter in the book, laminated and out of sight for years before he decided to go back to school for his master’s degree.
It stayed hidden even after he decided to get his master’s. He was all set to attend a different university for the degree. But about a month before starting, he received a call from what now is Grand Canyon University.
“I turned him down and said, ‘No, I’m already set,’ and as soon as I hung up the phone I got a knot in my stomach,” Smith said. “So I called him back and said, ‘You know, I do want to have more information.’”
Smith said he then immediately received a call from University counselor Candace Dickens.
“I never had anyone from a school before call me and say, ‘We can help you make your dream happen,’” Smith said. “It’s been the best experience I’ve ever had in all of my education.”
Smith said that because of his age, he wanted to complete the program in less than two years. So he doubled up his workload and finished in 14 months.
“There were a lot of times where I was down and I didn’t think I could do it, I would get phone calls from Candace saying, ‘How are you doing? I’ve been watching your grades,’” Smith said. “Sometimes she kind of pulled me out of the quicksand.”
Smith is a nursing instructor at Marion Technical College in Ohio. He taught at a different college before Marion and was a nurse at a major health care system for 17 years before he got into teaching.
The Phoenix house he used to live in is no more. An apartment complex now stands at his previous address. But Smith was able to visit his old high school, where he reminisced about the Lion mascot at Alhambra that has become a part of his life.
“My icon for my life has been the Lions,” Smith said, “and that’s what I tell my students — when you graduate from my class, you become a member of Brian’s Lions. And here I am going back to my high school with the nickname the Lions.”
Smith has been thoroughly enjoying his trip back to Phoenix. His wife, Patti, is celebrating graduation with him.
“I’m very proud of him. He knows that,” Patti said. “He worked really hard to get his degree, so I am very proud of him. I was amazed when he first got that email and said he wanted to go here. And then he showed me the letter and it was just like fate. He was supposed to get his master’s from Grand Canyon.”