COVID-19 can’t rain on this doctoral grad’s parade
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
It was a surreal moment for Dr. Eric Peterson as he watched Dr. Michael Berger, Dean of the College of Doctoral Studies, sign off on his dissertation in front of an audience last December.
Peterson has worked in higher education since 2003, helping other students pursue their doctorates. It had planted the seed in his mind – one day he was going to be Dr. Peterson.
And even though he couldn’t be hooded this spring because the pandemic forced Commencement to be postponed, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences professor still had earned a Doctor of General Psychology degree with an Emphasis in Integrating Technology, Learning and Psychology from Grand Canyon University.
But what stands out about Peterson’s seven-year doctoral journey is the way it ended, which he refers to as his “God moment.”
It happened the day before he was scheduled to defend his dissertation. He was picking up his GCU men’s basketball season tickets for his family, but when he dropped off his parents’ tickets his father, Richard, had bad news: Peterson’s mother, Sharon, was very ill.
“She couldn’t even get out of bed,” Peterson said. “She was pale as a sheet … so I prayed with her, prayed over her.”
His family knew how important defending his dissertation was, so his older sister Erin stepped in to help.
“She said, ‘We’re going to take care of Mom. Dad will get her to the hospital. You have your defense tomorrow — go do what you need to do. We’ve got this,” he recalled.
He agreed, but only under the condition that they would keep him posted if her condition worsened. The next morning, he mapped out his day. He would review materials and prepare for his defense before its scheduled 3 p.m. start.
Then his sister called him while he was eating breakfast.
“Mom’s in the ER, Dad’s been there since 4 a.m. with her. I would go help relieve him and get him some coffee because he’s exhausted, but I’ve got to go open up my shop,’” she told Peterson.
Peterson was on it. He has been roasting coffee for years, working with some of the highest volume coffeehouses in the nation, and knew that he could make something that could help his father. He ended up spending all morning with his parents, and during that time his mother’s condition improved. She has since recovered.
He got home with only 30 minutes of preparation time instead of the seven to eight hours he had originally planned. Turns out, that was all he needed.
“God knew what I needed,” he said. “I didn’t need to obsess about it all day long. I was ready. I was more than ready.”
Peterson dedicated his dissertation to his family, specifically his parents. He said it was through the glory of God that he was able to work toward his degree while keeping up with his duties at GCU, volunteering at his church and trying to be a good husband to his wife, Beth, and father to his daughters Cherish (22) and Grace (17).
Having to wait for his Commencement ceremony is disappointing, but Peterson said his heart is with the ground students who were due to graduate this spring.
“Obviously, it was something that I’m like, ‘Aw, I was so looking forward to that,’ but everything else just pales in comparison,” he said. “I’m at peace with it. I trust that the life that we lead won’t look like this for the next 12 months — it won’t be like this forever.”
For now, Peterson is holding onto the thought of how great it will feel when he finally gets hooded.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]