My LopeLife: Stories from Thursday evening session

October 18, 2019 / by / 0 Comment

Colorful messages adorn many a mortarboard at Commencement.

GCU News Bureau

Editor’s note: The Thursday evening ceremony at Grand Canyon University Fall Commencement brought together graduates of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology; the College of Theology; the College of Fine Arts and Production; and bachelor’s degree candidates from the College of Education. Here are their stories in this special edition of My LopeLife, a GCU Today feature in which students, faculty, staff and alumni share enlightening experiences. The photos are by Elizabeth Tinajero. For a full replay of the ceremony, click here.

College of Science, Engineering and Technology

After completing my bachelor’s program at GCU in 2018, I felt more motivated to keep going and immediately started working toward my master’s. My family and friends all suggested that I wait a year or two since I had just lost my mother a few months earlier.

To make life more stressful, my job was in the middle of a transition, which required me to work a massive amount of overtime to assist with the migration to our new facility. At home, my wife and I found out that we were expecting a new baby girl while we were in the middle of selling our home and buying a new one.

I remember praying that life would get easier or that some of the pressure would go away. I was then reminded that God is my strength and He would not give me more than I could handle.  

The program required me to develop a good life balance that would allow me to work a full-time job, raise a family and take care of myself while working on the program. I can honestly say that if GCU didn’t offer an online cybersecurity master’s program, the thought of pursuing a master’s would have been a thought for the future. My counselors were awesome as well, and because GCU is a Christian-based university, I have grown spiritually, and my faith and relationship with Christ has grown exponentially.

Marcus Brooks

M.S. in Cybersecurity


For many years I was my husband’s greatest cheerleader in his quest to get more education and improve our quality of life. But slowly I began to realize in my conversations with him that I am smart and I CAN have a job that I love as well. But I knew this would not happen unless I could rise above the competition and further my education.

This degree means more to me than just new doors opening for opportunity. It means that I have proved to myself that I am smart and capable. My goal was to finish my master’s before our oldest left for college, and I literally turned in my last assignment when we were in the hotel at her registration day.

I did this. I did it with a full-time job, a husband, and three kids who are all very active in sports and school. No excuses! And the best part? That my kids were old enough to witness my dedication and hard work.

I will never let myself assume that I am not smart enough, because I know now that I am. I can accomplish whatever I set my eyes on, even with life’s challenges.

Ronda Paris

M.S. in IT Management


My wife, Nicole Lacy, and I began our pursuit of our bachelor’s degrees in the fall of 2017 while both of us were active duty Air Force at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

At the beginning of 2017, my wife had our daughter, Adalyn. Nicole separated from the Air Force to stay home with our daughter and raise her. From that point, it was a balancing act of me remaining on active duty and her working part-time to supplement our income and raising our daughter, all while both of us were enrolled double full-time at GCU.

Through two years of hard work, dedication and perseverance, both Nicole and I are graduating with a 3.9 GPA.

Patrick Lacy

B.S. in Information Technology

Keynote speaker Kirk Cameron delivered a very spiritual message.

College of Theology

In 2014, I applied for a job at Grand Canyon University with one purpose in mind: My son was a senior in high school, and I wanted him to attend GCU that fall. I did not know at first that the employee tuition benefits covered two enrollments at a time. This was incredible news for me because I never thought I would earn a degree.

I enrolled with zero college credits. I am 40 years old, had my son during my last year of high school and never dreamed that the two of us would earn a bachelor’s degree simultaneously with free tuition. The icing on the cake is that my daughter is a freshman at GCU this fall and also is taking advantage of the generous employee tuition benefits. 

God used Grand Canyon University to change my life and provide opportunities to my family that we would not have had otherwise. Thank you, GCU.

Karlynne Aria

B.A. in Christian Studies


As an active-duty member of the Air Force, husband, father and avid airshow enthusiast, this was an incredible part of my journey toward full-time ministry. It has given me a new sense of how ministry should be practically applied no matter how the vocation was born. 

The challenge and charge to consider is that rather than waiting and looking for an opportunity to inject Jesus into a situation, we simply should choose to BE Jesus, always. Doors have opened to speak life into dark circumstances, peace into chaos, joy in sorrow, sight into what seemed foggy and eternity into what was in decay. 

Jeremy Meyers

B.A. in Christian Studies

College of Fine Arts and Production

I prayed for months that God would help me find what I was supposed to do. When I saw that GCU offered a completely online program that would allow me to get my degree in film, I marked it down on my potential list of transfer schools. They ended up having a hands-on program, most of my credits transferred, it was a lot less expensive.

Before I knew it, I was taking actual film classes and behind the camera, working with actual lighting equipment, and making my ideas come to life! My teachers were so encouraging and offered me expert help and advice whenever I needed it. I had a teacher who personally took the time to call me to introduce himself, which was a great personal touch. And I had an advising team that called me regularly to chat, answer my questions, and see if I needed anything.

Now, after beginning my college adventure in 2014, I am graduating. For the first time ever, I am a high achieving student who is on top of class and able to enjoy school on the side of my life rather than enjoy life on the side of school.

Online education pushed me to achieve greater and work harder than campus life ever did. It has been a lot of hard work and perseverance, but I made it and you can, too!  

Madisyn Yaron

B.A. in Digital Film with an Emphasis in Production

The support of family members is key for many graduates.

College of Education (bachelor’s degrees)

After 25 years of regretting not finishing my degree and after losing my mother, God gave me a new purpose — to love kids while teaching them. God guided me out of my comfort and into the scary challenge that I believed I was not capable of doing.

Regardless of my insecurities, I knew God’s call was clear. Through the process, I learned how to fully trust Him from day to day, one challenge at a time. With God’s purpose in view and the support of my beautiful family, the first goal is drawing near.

As I think about the last two years, I am grateful and amazed at my family’s patience and God’s faithfulness. The reservations of being a 53-year-old, new college graduate are no longer a joke but rather a badge of honor and obedience.

Michelle Rounsley

B.S. in Elementary Education


During my journey to a degree, I lost my beautiful mother and two of my closest friends. A few months ago, I was hospitalized after a simple pedicure because of the conditions of the salon.

I am thankful for my lovely sister and for genuine friends.  Despite where you’re coming from or your background or your history or where you live, it’s going to be all right if you persevere.

Most of all, put God first. To God be the glory! Miracles happen, and you’re looking at a miracle. I’m so blessed to be here.

Audrey Davis

B.S. in Secondary Education


Whenever I played as a child, I always would insist on playing school, and I always was the teacher. Always. Every time.

But then when I was very young, I contracted a germ while visiting my grandfather in his nursing home and ended up in the hospital for a long time. I wasn’t getting any better until a priest, Father Dale Kinzler, came and prayed with me and told me I was going to get well and how loved I was by God.

Shortly after that, I awoke in a dark room one evening and sprang up in bed and with a big smile on my face. I started to talk, nod my head, and was filled with a new feeling. I woke my mother, who asked me who I was talking to and what I was looking at. I told her Jesus was there with the angels and that He told me I was going to be OK. My recovery was speedy and I started kindergarten soon after.

I knew that Grand Canyon University was the right place for me for so many reasons. It ignited another fire in my heart with the feeling of God that is evident all around the campus. During my GCU journey I have touched nine school systems in two states and more children than I could ever count.

I am not a teacher because I want to make money, I’m not a teacher because I want to become famous and I’m not a teacher because I want everyone to approve of what I do. I know what teachers make – they make a difference.

Kirra Grandbois

B.S. in Elementary Education and Special Education


Proud children are another key component of the online experience.

My life did not go as planned – my dream to become a teacher was placed on hold when I became a mom at a young age. I still worked with children both in a day care or school setting, and my passion grew even stronger.

But then in October 2016, I took the long awaited leap, knowing that my children were all older. My first class at GCU filled me with so much energy. It was as if there were a fire lit inside of me. I talked to my counselor about doubling classes, and I took off running until the end!

Graduating is not just making a dream a reality, it is showing my children that no matter how old you are or what life throws at you, you finish your goals. This is more than a graduation for me, this is my circle being complete. This is my chance to pour my heart and dedication into a dream.

Heidi Fajardo

B.S. in Educational Studies


I started this journey eight years ago. I worked full-time, had three girls and was a foster parent – my husband and I took in many children. We ended up adopting our youngest daughter, who came to us with many, many needs.

I was tempted to quit many times. The stress of going to college, working and being a foster/adoptive parent was difficult. After about six years, I developed two autoimmune diseases and was tempted to quit again. I was sick a lot but finally accepted the fact that if I was going to graduate, I would need to ask for an accommodation because of the illness. I had to accept the idea that it is OK to ask for help if you need it.

My girls and my family tell me every day how proud they are of me. They were the ones that kept me going. My parents, my pastor and my family pushed me and would not let me quit.

I am reminded that all things are possible with God. We only have to believe. Thank you, Grand Canyon, for supporting me each step of the way. I made it! 

Ethel Pritchett

B.S. in Elementary Education


When I started my GCU journey in August 2016, I was a nervous wreck. I was balancing my classwork with a full-time job and other commitments, and my GPA reflected it.

On my first day of online class, I prayed, “God, walk this journey with me. You know I’m scared, but this is something I need to do. I know you will be by my side and if you bring me to it, you will bring me through it.”

And so He did. In each class, I felt God’s presence. My experience at GCU has helped me grow not only educationally but spiritually as well.

I couldn’t have completed my degree if it wasn’t for the three most inspirational people in my life – my husband and my parents. GCU, I will see you at my next stop, a master’ degree – if God allows me!

Maria Palafox 

B.S. in Educational Studies


The graduates react as the ceremony concludes.

I may have the same commencement story as many other moms out there, but I believe it needs to be heard. All of us moms have had to make sacrifices. 

In 2010, six months after I quit being a manicurist after 20 years to stay home with my kids, my husband lost his job. We lost our house, cars and pride. After a few years of struggling and barely being able to feed our children and pay our bills, I decided I never wanted us to be in this position again. But I had no education to assist me in getting a good-paying job to help our family.

I had been spending a lot of time as PTA mom and helping in classrooms and loved working with kids, so I vowed to take it to the next level. After doing some research, I knew GCU was the choice for me.

Being able to restart my own business from home and raise my children, all while getting an education, was a perfect fit for me. I have had to miss many social functions, spent many weekends working on homework in between or at sporting events, and we have been strapped financially, but it has all been worth it. 

GCU’s faculty, teachers, user-friendly online system and a Christian-centered mindset have brought me to this week. Thank you, GCU, for having an online program for people like me, for the moms who make late choices to make changes. 

Rachel Rice

B.S. in Educational Studies


I felt overwhelmed, thinking that my educational journey was way off-track, and I was crying my heart out as I prayed alone at my computer. I heard a beep for a pop-up ad on my computer, but I quickly clicked it away and put my head down in my arms and began to intensely sob.

After a short while the ad popped up again, but this time, a peaceful feeling came over me. As I wiped away my tears and focused, I saw that it was an ad for GCU. At that moment, I knew my prayers had been answered, and without hesitation I made that phone call and immediately became a proud GCU student.

I was on the dean’s list for the first two years even though I often studied and completed assignments late at night. But then my daughter was diagnosed with lyme disease, and I began to have my own medical issues.

My GCU counselor, who always was there for me with the right assistance, set me up with a temporary leave of absence. But when it was almost time for me to return, I needed to have surgery and my daughter was still sick.

Miraculously, we both regained our strength, and now I have my degree even though I changed majors.

Patricia Sevilla

B.S. in Educational Studies


While my three kids were growing up, I kept thinking about how much I wanted a college degree. I continued taking classes here, always trying to move forward.

But then in 2009, my husband started to have some health problems, and his health declined quickly. Today, he is a permanently disabled Navy veteran. I was able to use his Chapter 35 Entitlement, however, and this is where Grand Canyon University enters the story.

I visited the campus because my brother also was working on his degree from the University. I liked the idea of working on my degree online because taking care of him and having to find a babysitter made it hard for me to get out of the house.

As I take this step of finally walking down that aisle on Thursday night, I share this accomplishment with my husband, who always wanted this dream for me and found a way to help me accomplish it; with my kids, who always stood by me and encouraged me with my homework when things got busy; and my mom, who told me that it might take me until I was 98 years old, but I was going to walk down that aisle.

Well, I’m not 98, but even though mom died a couple of years ago, I can stand tall and say, “Hey mom! I did it!”

Nadine Briggs

B.S. in Elementary Education and Special Education


I was 39 years old and an aide in a special unit, assigned to a high school unit that serviced emotionally disturbed students. I was frustrated with the instruction the students were receiving and told my husband. His response: “You need to get your teaching license.”

At my age, it made me nervous to incur this debt. We have six children and two grandchildren, my husband is a high school varsity softball coach and we both worked. Online education was the only way I would accomplish this task, and Grand Canyon University was so welcoming and answered all of questions. They made the process of applying very easy.

Through my time as a GCU student, I have worn a bracelet that reads, “Enjoy the journey.” It is meant to remind me that I am doing this to be of a greater service to students, and it is so important to me that I wore that on my cap for commencement.

I could not have gotten this degree without my wonderful, loving, supportive husband, Shon. I have told him I did this for us; it was our journey. GCU has been amazing. I proudly wear my purple and tell others about the amazing experience at MY university … GCU!  

Manda Schaffer

B.S. in Elementary Education and Special Education

Related content:

GCU Today: Slideshow: Fall Commencement, Friday evening ceremony

GCU Today: My LopeLife: Passion for education drives teachers

GCU Today: My LopeLife: Nurses know all about hanging tough

GCU Today: My LopeLife: Tales of doctoral, nursing challenges

GCU Today: Slideshow: Fall Commencement, Friday afternoon ceremony

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GCU Today: GCU reaches 1,000 signed doctoral dissertations

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GCU Today: Jamaican graduate hopes degree will impact others

GCU Today: Kirk Cameron delivers powerful message to grads

GCU Today: My LopeLife: They had to be all business to succeed

GCU Today: Slideshow: Fall Commencement, Thursday afternoon ceremony

GCU Today: Slideshow: Fall Commencement, Thursday morning ceremony

GCU Today: My LopeLife: Humanities grads share their joy

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