Grads bring Students Inspiring Students full circle
Story by Ashlee Larrison
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau
After three years and hundreds of hours served in the Learning Lounge, the moment finally came Thursday afternoon for Yenni Sanchez Perez and Sean Oliver — the first graduates of the Students Inspiring Students scholarship initiative — to walk across the stage and accept their diplomas with their College of Humanities and Social Sciences peers.
Sitting among the smiling faces of her fellow graduates on the floor of Grand Canyon University Arena, Sanchez was glowing and beaming with excitement as she reflected on what the full-tuition scholarship has done for her.
“I got to mentor a lot of students, I was able to talk to a lot of students one on one,” Sanchez said. “A lot of the students I helped during their essays and with their homework are the new SIS students, and that made me very proud.”
Helping other students was always something that Sanchez enjoyed in the Learning Lounge, but seeing the difference she and other learning advocates (LEADs) were able to make in those students’ lives was an emotional moment for her.
“I almost cried because I’m like, ‘Those are my kids, my kids got the scholarship.’ I’m like full of emotions,” she said.
She couldn’t believe that she was getting her Bachelor of Arts degree in Government just three years after accepting the same scholarship her students accepted this spring.
“It feels so surreal,” she said. “The moment just came by so quick, and initially I was like, ‘Oh, I want to graduate, I want to graduate, but now the time is here and it feels like it happened in a second.”
Oliver also couldn’t believe he was there, in GCU Arena, in a cap and gown mere minutes before receiving his Bachelor of Science degree in Justice Studies.
“It’s kind of unbelievable that I made it this far,” Oliver said. “I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to graduate until basically yesterday when my instructors said, ‘Hey, you got the grades you need.’”
Oliver was grateful for the friendships he was able to form through the SIS scholarship and through his mentoring. He said his three years at GCU have been the “most fun I’ve had in my life.”
Up at the top of the Arena, James and Tammy Oliver were all smiles as they watched Sean receive his degree.
“We’re very excited and happy,” said Tammy, keeping her attention on the stage to be able to witness Sean’s big moment.
“I’m shocked,” James said with a smile. “He’s just a great kid, I couldn’t ask for anything better.
“I’ve always told him to reach for the stars and he did. We’re very proud.”
The families weren’t the only ones filled with pride at what Sanchez and Oliver were able to accomplish. Dr. Joe Veres, who started as the director of the SIS program and is now the Vice President of Student Success, is proud of his students as well.
“This is why we began the scholarship,” Veres said. “This is probably the most rewarding commencement ceremony that I’ve been a part of.
“We had students coming to the Lounge saying they wanted to come to GCU because they wanted to give back, they wanted to serve at a university, but they had the financial difficulties of getting there. So for the two grads that are graduating, to see that come full circle … shows you the type of students they are and the dedication they have.”
Now that their time as undergraduate students has ended, Sanchez and Oliver have big plans.
Sanchez plans to begin a master’s program in Secondary Education at Arizona State University.
Oliver said he’s going to give himself a well-deserved break for the summer before pursuing his dream of working in law enforcement.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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