Campus crosses will symbolize new hope
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
The stainless steel arrived at John Berkheimer’s shop on campus a few days ago — just several pieces of metal tubing.
One day they will mean so much more.
During Easter week in a time of pandemic, Berkheimer and others began devotedly sanding the pieces for texture and welding them together for strength to become three crosses that will stand in the middle of the Grand Canyon University campus.
“I’m excited. The design comes from students and they are dedicated to students,” said Berkheimer, Engineering Shop Manager.
The story of the cross in Christianity is about a dark time when Jesus was crucified on Friday but symbolizes hope for the future, celebrated on Easter Sunday.
“God was at work in the hearts of our seniors,” said Dr. Tim Griffin, GCU’s Dean of Students and University Pastor. “None of us knew what was coming, so the timing of this is pretty amazing.
“People are looking for hope. They are looking for reasons to look to the future and to have a positive outlook on how things are going to turn out.”
The idea was pushed by one student long before the world turned topsy-turvy with COVID-19.
Senior Sam Yonan, President of Associated Students of Grand Canyon University (ASGCU), thought that one of the nation’s largest Christian universities needed a highly visible cross beyond the few places it appears on logos or within buildings.
“I was passionate about having our Christian identity stick out with boldness,” he said. “These crosses will be a great message to believers and non-believers who step on our campus.”
His idea was also on Griffin’s mind for a few years, since one wooden cross that had deteriorated and long stood on campus was removed for a construction project. It gained traction this year because of Yonan and other students’ passion, combined with a goal borne in the Office of Student Engagement to institute a senior class dedication project.
Even as students left campus because of the virus outbreak last month, Yonan and others moved forward with the plan, which originally was to be dedicated before Commencement but with its postponement will wait until at least fall.
One cross became three as campus leaders, architects and student designers created what will be a visually moving display on the grassy area on the east end of Academic Administration (Building 23) and visible from the GCU Arena entrance. One cross is 12 feet tall and two others will be set back from it that are 8.7 feet and 7.3 feet, all lit with floodlights, with plenty of room around them for photographs.
“When Jesus was crucified there were two thieves crucified with him, so there are three crosses in the biblical account, and that’s what the senior class wanted to capture,” Griffin said.
“Our alumni, our students and thousands of future students will come to GCU, and my hope is that this will be an iconic location on campus that will really express who we are and what we are at our core.”
The metal is being sanded by Berkheimer and others in the shop to give it texture, then welded together and placed on pedestals with a plaque of dedication to the class of 2020, the students who looked for a meaningful way to mark their time here amid the coronavirus.
“It’s kind of cool that we will have this cross, which is a symbol of our faith but also the sacrifice that Christ paid for us,” Yonan said. “It will hold a greater remembrance of this graduating class, to not only our identity and who we serve, but this whole time period we are in of uncertainty and unpredictability that has served a greater reminder to us. We are not in control, no matter how much we think we are, but we do serve a God that is in control.”
As he applies for jobs and finishes his courses, the senior said he doesn’t know what the future holds, and he’s living day by day. But he’s finding meaning, too, in these rough pieces of metal made so powerful that he doesn’t think of them as a personal legacy. Assembled, they will be about a very old story made real in modern day.
“The story of the cross is really about a dark time in history when Jesus was crucified, but what resulted from that was peace and forgiveness and redemption, all these things that give hope to humanity,” Griffin said. “The cross is so symbolic of hope and victory that to display that in this time in our nation’s history, in our world’s history, it couldn’t be more fitting.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.