Retiring Dave Smith read grads’ names — and a lot of numbers
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
One of the voices of Grand Canyon University commencement is retiring.
Dave Smith, whose last day at GCU is Monday, Aug. 5, after almost exactly 10 years as Director of Academic Excellence in the College of Education, is perhaps more well-known for reading the names of graduates as they receive their diplomas — and sometimes those names are difficult to pronounce.
“It might be the most fun thing I do,” he said.
And who better to do it than a person whom colleagues describe as a “detail guy?” But Smith did a lot more at GCU than read names at graduation.
“We will miss his knowledge of numbers and his University knowledge,” said Julie Brett, Director of Clinical Practice in COE, who started at GCU on the same day as Smith. “He was our data guy and one who we would go to whenever we needed reporting on the University.”
Smith, 64, is a Cincinnati native and former dean of two colleges who came to GCU in 2009 when “there were just 40 ground students in Education,” he said, “and this fall we have 1,500.”
He describes his job role as a “first-of-its-kind” at GCU, one that required detailed reports to federal officials, research for accreditation efforts and extensive data compilation in test numbers and in business analytics at a time of rapid University growth.
“I’ve loved it. It’s probably the best job I’ve had,” Smith said. “I’m a very detailed kind of person, and it fits my personality. I don’t mind hunkering down here and cranking through stuff when need be, but I’ve also got enough experience that I know what’s happened in the past.”
His job at graduation for the past seven years was less behind the scenes. He joined wife Jacqueline Smith, a former Executive Director of Career Services at GCU, in gathering all the name cards and addressing the students an hour before go time.
“Anybody got a hard name?” he would ask. “Inevitably in a group of five, one would say, ‘Look at this one.’ ”
The names of students from Africa and Asia can be particularly difficult, but the detail guy pulled it off, sometimes even with a bit of fun.
He asked one young woman how to pronounce her name, and she replied with an unmistakable accent: “Can you do Australian?”
With his rapid-fire delivery, he had seven seconds from the time he got the card to scan it and read it. He was handed the Australian woman’s name and looked up to see her on the approach.
“So I summoned my inner Keith Urban,” he said, ripping off his best Aussie accent on her name, much to her shock. “She just went bouncing across the stage with the biggest grin on her face.”
Smith will miss all that but is looking forward to his time working with his wife again — this time in real estate in Prescott.
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 602-639-6764.