Student body leaders wrap up term with glowing review

Associated Students of GCU president Jagaar Halverson and vice president Amaya De La Cruz look back at their year as leaders.

Photos by Ralph Freso

Student body president Jagaar Halverson and vice president Amaya De La Cruz were an unmistakable sight on Grand Canyon University’s campus this year.

Halverson is tall, lean with a shock of neatly combed blond hair, and in the wake of his ramrod-straight handshake is an air of future public service. De La Cruz is of winning smile, carrying the warmth of a cheerleader and the strength of a rugby player (she’s been both).

But underneath the surface, the two accomplished plenty in their Associated Students of GCU term. As they conclude it in April and prepare for graduation, the description of their experience at GCU says a lot about why they were student government leaders.

“GCU has changed my outlook on life,” said Halverson, a government major. “I didn’t come here as a believer. Now I leave here and I’m leading a Bible study, serving at my church and have been the student body president of the largest Christian university in the country. There is not another university that’s the level of community that GCU has, and I think faith is a big component of that.”

Jagaar Halverson reflects on his year as student body president.

He came from Spencer, Iowa, to attend Arizona State University and play some golf. Then a friend took him to GCU’s The Gathering, a regular student spiritual fellowship on campus. He soon became a student and was changed.

“That night, between Building 18 and 26, I gave my life to Christ, and by the end of October, ’22, I was baptized,” he said. “I had a vision of what college should look like and what I should be doing. But then you come here and find your calling, which is serving the Lord, and He blesses you with the ability of what you want to do, and for me that is government.”

De La Cruz came from Sacramento, California, and never expected that she would have not only ready access to University leadership “but a genuine relationship.” She sat in Bible study with one leader and joined Halverson and Vice President of Student Affairs, Dean of Students and University Pastor Dr. Tim Griffin for lunch every Friday. She is certain she can call on any of them in five or 10 years and they would respond. She also learned a lot about leadership from them.

“I would tell people that this is a special place, and you don’t understand how special until you are on campus and experience what is happening here,” said the communications major. “I know my life has changed and transformed going here, and I’ve heard a lot of people say the same thing.”

Griffin said they were a delight to work and lunch with, and good in their roles.

“Their concern for the University and the welfare of the student body was apparent in every weekly lunch that we shared,” he said. “I expect that they will have very productive lives after GCU and make the University proud.”

Amaya De La Cruz reflects on her year as student body vice president.

They led their Senate team in using artificial intelligence to get feedback from the student body and then held meetings with staff and faculty to communicate student needs, said Jeremy Mack, director of Student Engagement. "GCU is better for their time as president and vice president."

As Ashley Cote and David Pritchard take over as new ASGCU leaders in April, Halverson and De La Cruz looked back with pride on their roles as the voice of the student body to administrators. But they quickly learned they also became the face of students on campus.

Early on, Halverson noticed people filming him on campus to put on their social media feed, or asking him what is happening on campus initiatives while he’s simply in line trying to get a sub.

 “I’m 100% extrovert, but you are always under the spotlight,” he said. “I love people, but I slimmed down the number of people I talk to every day, because I was drained – but in a good way. This role forces you to be uber professional.”

They were both also surprised at just the sheer amount of kibitzing they were doing with University leadership, which they said is unusual when talking with other student government leaders across the country.

“You need to be able to flip a switch, talking to a student who doesn’t want speed bumps on Lopes Way anymore to a conversation on a big thing happening at the University,” De La Cruz said. “You will never catch me wearing sweat pants and my hair in a messy bun on campus. We were just held to a different standard. But I think it taught us peak professionalism that you can’t get in any other job.”

Right out of the gate, they did what they considered important work. When news surfaced early in their term of a Department of Education fine for GCU, “Amaya and I were at the forefront to keep students informed,” Halverson said, hosting a group of 300 student leaders to discuss it.

“We were not forcing an opinion on them but giving them information to form an opinion – and if they gather those resources, they are going to come to the conclusion that both of us and the University did, that we are on the right side,” Halverson said.

Student body president Jagaar Halverson walks with Grand Canyon University president Brian Mueller during Welcome Week Move-In on Aug. 28, 2023.

It was also important to them to keep promises they made during the campaign. Topping that list was getting loading zones for students outside residence halls, so they can park for a short time and unload groceries, pick up a friend or grab something from their room without the potential of a ticket.

Just last week, a concrete pad was poured outside Cactus to move large trash bins that are in spots that now can be used for 30-minute parking. Those loading zones are in the process of being added to nine new locations and expanded in nine others with additional time and signage, University officials said.

One of the accomplishments of ASGCU student body president Jagaar Halverson and student body vice president Amaya De La Cruz was to facilitate student loading zones throughout campus.

Also, they said they listened to students and were able to help facilitate the simplification and improvement of the housing application process, including maps and more detailed filtering of group and individual openings and numerous other changes.

“One of the biggest highlights was just knowing we get to represent student voices,” Halverson said.

Their personal calendars were “jam-packed,” nearly every hour spoken for in the day with evening events thrown in. But meeting with mayors, Arizona legislators, even representatives of consulates from seven different countries, was a thrill, not to mention getting a courtside seat at the basketball game.

They are both considering jobs at GCU after graduation. Halverson also is in the running to do consulting for local politicians with the long-term goal of law school, while De La Cruz eventually wants to be a school principal and “be with students the rest of my life.”

She’ll be no softy. Remember, she was once a high school cheerleader who became a bruising GCU women’s rugby club player.

“It’s funny, I’m super golden retriever. I don’t have rage,” she said. “I tackle and say, ‘I’m sorry.’”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]

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