My LopeLife: Class of 2020 has powerful perspective

February 12, 2021 / by / 0 Comment

Editor’s note: Reprinted from the February 2021 issue of GCU Magazine. To read the digital version, click here. My LopeLife is a feature in which GCU students, staff and alumni share enlightening experiences. To be considered for My LopeLife, please email a short synopsis of your suggested topic to [email protected] with “My LopeLife” in the subject field. 

By Araceli Wills
Special to GCU Magazine

I’d like to say my transition out of the Air Force was smooth, but it was far from it. I was medically retired in 2018, and within three months I was no longer Sgt. Wills, the remotely piloted instructor sensor operator who had been in wars since the early years of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Araceli Wills’ Air Force photo from 2010.

Despite living with the crippling effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, I decided to enroll at Grand Canyon University and finish a goal I’ve had for eight years.

My first semester at GCU ended in a trip to the emergency room for kidney stones. Two days later, I ended up back in the E.R. with pneumonia. I pushed through my last three weeks of the semester and hoped the rest of my senior year would be better.

I was wrong.

Fast forward to 2020.

My husband came home complaining of a sore throat, and we both ended up getting COVID-19. I have a history of respiratory issues from my time in the military, so knew it was going to be tough.

I ended up needing breathing treatments, and it took me a month to recover. Needless to say, I fell behind on my schoolwork.

After the third week, I accepted that I never would be able to catch up and would have to repeat the semester. I was feeling defeated.

That same night, my professor reached out and reminded me that the most important thing was to take care of myself. It was such a simple message, but it was all the encouragement I needed.

I had two options. I could give it my all and risk failing anyway, or I could give up and live with regret. I decided to focus my efforts on passing the semester.

On top of battling COVID, I was trying to balance my schoolwork while homeschooling my children.

Araceli Wills helps her son Logan, with his schoolwork. (Photo by David Kadlubowski)

My son Logan was so excited to start kindergarten this year, but after six hours of online learning every day, he started to internalize the negative effects of the pandemic. He became aggressive, cried and yelled, saying, “Mama, I can’t do this! I’m just a little kid. I’m not smart.”

I decided to bring both of my boys to GCU and show them what “Mama’s school” was like.

My 7-year-old, Aiden, was mesmerized by the fact that we all got to go to school without any parents telling us what to do. He saw students riding skateboards, napping in hammocks and hanging out with their friends. Aiden turned to me and said, “You’re telling me that everyone here gets to go to school to learn about whatever they want? Mama, that is so cool.”

The lesson: What you do and who you are matter. It matters to people you have never even met before.

Embrace who you are and the challenges you have overcome because your actions and talents are going to be what inspires hope in the generation impacted by COVID the most.

I have lived through many adversities in my life. I have survived poverty, childhood sexual abuse, racism, and disability and gender discrimination. I have grieved the loss of family members who have died from addiction, and I have been in wars most of my adult life. I have stood by and watched my friends suffer in silence and lose their battle to invisible wounds.

We can choose to hate all the things that have happened to us, or we can take the knowledge we have gained and choose to heal.

If we cannot walk away from this experience with a new perspective on hope and love, then we’ve missed the mark. We’ve missed the whole point of who Jesus is and what He has done for us.

Wills has overcome many obstacles in her life and believes the best is yet to come for her and other graduates. (Photo by David Kadlubowski)

As John 16:33 reminds us, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I was shocked when I was told that my professors had nominated me to be a 2020 Winter Commencement student speaker. It was an unforgettable experience as I walked across that stage.

I will be forever grateful that my professors at GCU saw past my struggles to encourage and inspire me. My journey has not been easy, but the thing about suffering is that it can bring clarity of God’s purpose in your life.

My faith has had ups and downs, but through my journey I have established a genuine belief in Christ and have found peace knowing I have a purpose far greater than the struggles of this world.

My hope is to shed light on the power of perspective and how it can serve as a testament of who God is and how He’s able to raise you out of the ashes of this broken world.

This pandemic may not be what any of us anticipated, but we always can find a way to celebrate our strengths, even in the darkest of times.

Focus on what matters, take care of yourself and keep going because the world needs to see the positivity, hope and love you carry in Christ during and after your time at Grand Canyon University. It needs your perspective.



Araceli Wills is a wife, veteran and mother of two. She has associate degrees in Intelligence Studies and Technology and Aerospace Studies and Technology. She is the owner of Aztec Owl Photography, the Vice President of Student Veterans of America (GCU chapter) and a member of Alpha Chi and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. In December, she earned her bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Health Science from Grand Canyon University.


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