Families get to watch innovative Honors banquet
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
Breanna Naegeli and her Honors College staff got even more creative when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of all on-campus events for the rest of the semester.
They were determined to celebrate more than 300 Grand Canyon University students in the annual Honors College banquet — they just had to find a different way to do it. So it was Tuesday night that, instead of attending a formal dinner in GCU Arena, students logged onto their computers from around the country and viewed the banquet on YouTube.
It was all about one word for Naegeli, Associate Dean of the Honors College.
“Community is the No. 1 word used by all GCU students,” Naegeli said. “It’s one thing to have to transition your entire academic journey online, so the last thing we wanted to do was take away and give up on all those community-building events that happen throughout the year as well.
“We knew we were going to find a way to execute the banquet online. It just took a lot of work between Cat (Cathleen Daly, Honors College Program Manager) and her team of students to figure out how we were going to make that happen.”
It was a task they did not take lightly. The clips in the video were filmed across the country, with no opportunity to meet in person to look over project details. Despite the obstacles, the video’s fluidity displayed the sheer talent and dedication emerging from the college.
“The entire team is across the U.S., so that was a different experience,” Daly said. “But they were right on board right away as soon as we brought the idea to them.
“When the news came out about everything how everything was canceled, it was just a lot for them to process and transition from. So I think it was really cool for them to see us start promoting this event. They’re all like, ‘Oh wait, there is still something to look forward to. There’s still something we can all connect with.’”
The event was completely filmed, edited and organized by students. Graphics, branding, social media promos and script writing were coordinated by the student marketing team. Konnor Bennett took the role as lead videographer and editor for the final product, and the event was emceed by two freshmen, Chloe Campbell and Camden Marasco.
The result: a 34-minute program featuring a slideshow of events from the past academic school year, Honors trivia and some words of wisdom from Miss Arizona and former GCU Honors student Jacqueline Thomas.
“Having the opportunity to virtually emcee with Camden for the banquet was such a fun experience,” Campbell said. “A lot of hard work, time and energy went into this event by student workers, Honors staff and faculty, and I am so pleased with how it turned out.”
In addition to emceeing, Campbell and Marasco both found out while watching the finished video that they had won awards. Campbell was named Freshman of the Year, and Marasco won the Champion of Character award.
“I’m grateful that I’ve had the chance to be a part of such an impactful and encouraging community within the Honors College,” Campbell said. “Honors has provided me with many beneficial opportunities and resources that have truly laid out a foundation for my future career. I am very thankful for the Honors staff and faculty who were so supportive and challenged me throughout my first year at GCU. I couldn’t imagine attending any other school.”
For Marasco, it was a cool experience to find out during the livestream, alongside his family in Tennessee, that he had been selected for an award.
“It was funny because we were all sort of off guard when the award came up, and then my name came up on the screen and they’re like, ‘Whoa, this is awesome,’” he said. “It was a fun night. I’m glad they got to experience a little bit of my college life from our living room.”
Another Honors student who made an appearance in the video, while also taking home the Distinguished Achievement award, was Aubrey Grasz, President of the Honors College Student Advisory Board. Like Marasco, she got to watch the livestream with her family at her home in Nebraska.
“I was very honored to get the award,” Grasz said. “It just meant a lot to receive that. It was a really nice ending to my time at GCU.”
Grasz was supposed to present at the banquet before the transition to online. So when the email came asking her to film a clip for the video, she was more than happy to help congratulate her fellow Honors students and especially her fellow seniors on their accomplishments.
“It makes me really proud to be a part of the Honors College, seeing how much they really care about all the students and they care about keeping our community together,” she said. “I’ve just been really impressed with everything that they’ve done for students to make sure that we’re all still in a community during this time.”
The Senior of the Year award winner, Elisha Fronda, was also grateful.
“Although untraditional, Breanna and the rest of the staff found a way to put on a fantastic event, as always,” Fronda said. “It’s very humbling to end my time in the Honors College recognized for this award. They have gone above and beyond in supporting me for all four years — I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.
“I came in at a really cool time where I was able to experience the full benefits of being an Honors student but also witness tremendous growth in college size. That entire staff is a bunch of superstars; I can’t wait to see the college grow and hopefully pay it forward as a mentor in future years.”
The banquet can be viewed here.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]