Christmas tree-lighting event offers new hope
Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau
Just before the Christmas tree lighting ceremony Thursday at Canyon 49 Grill, a big gift was handed to Grand Canyon University student Macie Boddy.
Better find a big bank to put this big check in, joked Brett Cortright, General Manager of GCU Hotel and Canyon 49, handing her one of those big, fake checks. (He then slipped her the real prize, $1,000 cash in an envelope.)
Boddy, a junior hospitality management major, lit up like a Christmas tree. She won the David R. Landau Hospitality Scholarship, named after the program’s first instructor, who died last year of cancer.
Boddy spent her childhood at the feet of her parents in Albany, Ore., where they ran a coffee shop.
“I really grew to love it,” Boddy said. “I just like to get to know people and make them happy.”
Happiness was the order of the evening, a chance to forget the past few months’ trials and forced separations and watch the Christmas tree lights blink to life with new hope, to drink hot chocolate and eat colorful sugar cookies made by Angie Celis, the Grill’s celebrated new pastry chef.
Boddy said she has learned a lot in the past year of challenge in the hospitality industry, dealing with a crisis that has affected the industry like no other. She will use her skills as the scholarship winner to plan a dinner next spring for hospitality students.
Cortright was the proud purveyor of lights, and not just of the traditional tree at the Grill’s entrance. He stood in the circle drive that was the outdoor setting for the event and was mesmerized by the newest edition – a light display on the overhang in the form of a tree that flashed dozens of lights in sync with music.
The Arizona Twirling Athletes, a collection of high school girls, spun their lighted batons in concert with the tree.
But what really lit up Cortright was talking about Landau, who awarded the first scholarship before he died, while a committee picked this year’s winner. A video tribute shared stories of his sharp wit and passion for students’ education.
“Like a typical hospitality person, Dave said, ‘The only requirement I have for the scholarship is that it’s not based on grades,’” Cortright recalled.
To a cook, there is nothing like standing in a kitchen, sharing the tastes and smells and talking food. The scholarship gives the student that opportunity.
The purpose of the evening was also to turn the page to a brighter season. Students and employees milled around the circle in the night air or took photos in front of a green screen digitally infused with an image of Santa’s sleigh because a real Santa’s lap would not be distant enough in these times.
“It’s a chance to kick off the holiday. Especially this year when students have been here much more than they have been during other holiday seasons, we want to give them plenty to do,” Cortright said.
As a donation box filled with food to give to the needy, Eunice Ishimwe took the stage to sing “O Holy Night.”
The masked spectators were moved to join her stirring, a cappella version.
Ishimwe was a last-minute fill-in and had never sung the song in public before. But the electrical engineering student, who sings for outreach missions, nailed it.
“I was nervous I would forget the words,” she said. “But I love to sing. Wherever there is an opportunity to sing, I will be there, with or without instruments.”
Ishimwe was taken by students who came out on a chilly night to support the scholarship winner and partake in an event, warmed by heaters, a real roaring fire and each other’s company.
“This community is so incredible to me. It just shows that people are caring,” she said.
It made for a busy evening for Canyon 49’s student general manager, Kelsey Schultz, but she celebrated it.
“I’m a big Christmas fan. I’ve always loved Christmas,” she said. “An event like this allows us to be normal in an un-normal way, adapting to the changes, spacing out and social distancing, but still being able to gather. We find ways to adjust and make it better.”
Then, just before 6:30 p.m., the countdown began. The Christmas tree was lit on a new, hopeful season.
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.