Despite challenges, online students reach finish line

May 17, 2021 / by / 0 Comment

From back yards to beaches, Grand Canyon University students from across the nation celebrated their graduation with a virtual Commencement ceremony on Saturday.

GCU News Bureau

Their Commencement celebration Saturday was virtual, but the challenges online students at Grand Canyon University faced in the last 14 months were up close and personal.

GCU President Brian Mueller made note of that in his remarks when he said, “Many of you began working from home. Some of you lost jobs. Many of you had to support your children as they began learning from home. Others had to take care of parents who are at greater risk because of the virus. It was a challenging world for all of us.”

But that makes it all the more remarkable that the University set a record with approximately 28,000 graduates in the 2020-21 academic year.

“Your determination to successfully complete what you started has been an inspiration to your children, your parents, friends and co-workers,” he added. “What you have accomplished is remarkable, and we are celebrating it today.”

It won’t be the end to the celebrations. GCU plans to stage in-person Commencement ceremonies this fall for any 2020-21 graduates who want a chance to walk across the stage, just as it did last month for Spring 2020 traditional graduates. 

The new grads have plenty of stories about what the journey was like. Below is a sampling, interspersed with social media posts that further the celebration. To watch the Commencement ceremonies, which are divided by college, click here

Heather Talamante:

“We all face our own individual struggles on this journey. Some may arrive at the finish line shiny and bright-eyed while others arrive worn down, scathed and beaten down by life. I am arriving having worked a full-time job, homeschooling three children amidst a pandemic, supporting my local community with career services, and having completed my bachelor’s degree in Business Management with a 4.0 GPA. My story is no more gallant than the next, but I wish to be a beacon of hope for other single mothers. They, too, can arrive as they are, worn out and victorious.” 

Sheremoya Hill:

“Being a Christian, an RN and working in a correctional facility is a challenge because of the negative and often hostile environment. I have learned to see the inmate/patients through God’s eyes and provide quality care despite their crimes. I am not there to judge them; that is the job of God, and God is not hiring. I am a patient advocate and will continue to influence others to do what is ethically and morally correct in providing patient care.”


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Kate Carrillo:

“I began this journey in May 2018 but contracted valley fever and sepsis in December 2019 and almost died. But with the grace of God on my side, I dug in my heels even harder. It was probably the hardest task that I had ever decided to take on. I told myself many times that I could quit if it became too hard, but I was able to muster up the strength to continue and here I am, graduating with a master’s degree in Special Education at age 61. Tears of joy flow as I write this letter, and I am so excited even if though Commencement had to be virtual. In the words of Walt Disney, ‘It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.’” 

Laura Davila:

“As a first-generation college student and single teen (now adult) mom, the odds have been against me. Despite my challenges, I have always had my heart set on going to college and becoming an educator. In 2006, I graduated with my B.A., and in 2021 I am graduating with my M.A. With the grace and strength from God, I am proud to share this journey and accomplishment with my children, family and students.” 


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Hope Godfrey:

“The past 3½ years have been rough but so worth it. I entered the professional counseling program in November 2017. I wanted to give up in the spring of 2019 when I discovered my then 13-year-old daughter had an inoperable brain tumor.  I pushed myself to keep going, and it has been so worth it to hear her say that she feels proud when she tells her friends her mom is a therapist.

“I’m also the only female in my immediate family to obtain a higher education degree. I feel blessed and favored by God. I’m so glad to be graduating, and this is the best gift I’ve ever given myself. I’m proud to be a Lope!”

Diana Williams:

“I’m a mother of six who worked my way through all levels of nursing – LPN, RN, BSN and now MSN – while working and caring for my family as well as battling a breast cancer diagnosis. I am proof that hard work and prayers will help you live your dreams.”


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Blanca Hindle:

“In the course of completing the master’s program in sociology, I had a difficult pregnancy, had the baby, switched jobs and dealt with the pandemic. Completing this graduate program has affected my life in so many positive ways. I feel that I have grown spiritually and personally through the work I completed for the program and the experiences that I had.”

Sarah Batson:

“After losing my job, I knew God was calling me to the ministry of education. With three sons and a fourth on the way, I decided to enter a master’s program resulting in a teaching certificate. I knew it would be a challenge, but I had no idea what was to come. When COVID-19 hit, my game plan came to a screeching halt. Suddenly, my three sons were remote learning. God carried us.”  


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Rosemary Chang:

“At age 41, I knew I had to balance work, family and friends, and my social life was nonexistent. Then my father was put in hospice, and I took care of him for endless nights while balancing school until he passed away last July. My heart broke, but I kept pushing. In January, my son was diagnosed with coronary disease, a life-threatening illness that if not corrected with open-heart surgery could take his life. Life has not been easy through these horrific obstacles, but I continued to push forward. Let people know that through adversity we will overcome what we set our mind to.” 

Robert Walker:

“I completed my Doctorate of Education in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in K-12 Leadership on March 29. It was a long journey filled with the usual stressors of completing a doctorate, but I also had to survive a near fatal car accident in December 2019. Now my journey is complete.”


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Candace Poindexter:

“For the past 23 years, I’ve defined myself as a mom. I applied to GCU on a leap of faith, with no knowledge of how I would accomplish the goal of a master’s in Educational Leadership while working full time and raising a family. I’d always been afraid to continue my education after I earned my bachelor’s because it took so much time away from my oldest and middle children, and I didn’t want to put my youngest through the same struggle.

“Over the past 13 months I began to understand that what I was doing was bigger than me and would lead to great things for myself and my children. My children supported me every step of the way, and they are so proud of what I’ve accomplished. Thank you, GCU!”


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Michelle Knipe:

“You are never too old to learn. After 33 years of working in the field of tax and accounting, I took the leap of faith before I turned 50 to go to college, imagining my 52nd birthday with my bachelor’s degree. Now I am here and moving forward toward my master’s next thanks to God’s grace, my faith and the support of my wonderful family. I am wearing my tassel along with that of my mother, who graduated with the same degree in 1977.” 


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Stephanie Chavez:

“My educational journey has been very emotional. I am 50 years old and a single mother. I identify with my Latino and Native American heritage, and I am the first one in my family to graduate from college – with a 3.52 GPA to boot! I never thought I was college material, but it was a lifelong dream to go to college.

“Like many minority women before me who pursued higher education, I had to go through this journey facing much adversity. I never thought I would make it, but the quality of instruction at GCU helped me advance and now I hope to have a better quality of life.” 


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Deninne Pritchett:

“I know firsthand what defeat feels like and how the people around you can make you or break you because you’re in such a vulnerable state. I am determined to make a difference in the lives of others, especially those students who need it most. While enrolled at GCU, I began to look at my opportunities differently. Your college provided the guidance and support I needed to be successful. I am grateful. It’s because of the opportunity provided by GCU that I achieved my dream of being an inspirational educator.”


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Amy Winney:

“I am graduating summa cum laude (3.98 GPA), which I maintained not only during a pandemic but while working full time for the Supreme Court of Arizona, fighting a custody battle with my 6-year-old daughter’s father, planning and holding a wedding, buying a house, sustaining the mental health and me and my daughter and managing the health and finances of my mother, father and stepmother. And now I’m pregnant.”



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