Honors students honored in a big way at banquet

Honors College Director of Operations Dennis Williams (right) and his wife, Julianne, perform at the college's annual banquet on Monday night.

Story by Ashlee Larrison
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau

One of the biggest Honors College events of the year brought the Big Apple to the Grand Canyon University campus Monday evening.

Kendall Smith accepts her Dean’s Choice Award from Honors College Dean Dr. Breanna Naegeli during the Honors College Banquet.

The eighth annual Honors College Banquet transformed GCU Arena for "A Night in New York." More than 350 Honors students of all grade levels mingled, enjoyed a catered dinner, celebrated the award presentations and listened to live music by Honors College Director of Operations Dennis Williams and his wife, Julianne, through their musical group, J Forte Music. (Here’s a slideshow.)

The college's newly promoted dean, Dr. Breanna Naegeli, viewed it as the perfect conclusion to the college’s yearlong trek to normalcy coming out of the pandemic.

“This is a really fun, celebratory event, hosted by students for students,” she said.  “Every year we try to make sure we provide a platform for students to feel celebrated, to feel acknowledged for their hard work, their efforts − everything that goes into a successful school year personally and as a college overall.”

Williams saw the evening as a way to celebrate the resilience and excellence of the Honors students.

Presenters Andrew Jennings (center) and Belle Rakestraw (right) presented the Outstanding Senior of the Year Award to Gaige Graham during the Honors College Banquet.

“This year was our bounce-back year, and we saw Honors students hit the ground running as it pertains to our events, programs and everything we’ve been doing,” he said. “A lot of our student leaders from the Honors College have really stepped up and put in a lot of hours, a lot of time, a lot of commitment and hard work to make sure that they provide just an exceptional experience for the Honors community this year.”

While most of the awards − such as Outstanding Senior of the Year, which went to Gaige Graham − are decided by student vote, the Honors College staff chooses some, too − most notably, the Dean's Award. The winner this year is senior dance and film major Kendall Smith, who saw it as a bittersweet moment because her final undergraduate dance concert is this week and her Commencement ceremony is on Friday.

“I’ve loved being involved in the Honors College for all four years," she said. "It’s so nice to tie a bow on the end of senior year with the Dean’s Award.

Lena-May Haught (left) was awarded the Giving Back Award.

“It’s finally starting to hit me a little bit … but I’m excited to see what my next chapter holds.”

Another senior, Lena-May Haught, was greeted with no shortage of applause when she was named the winner of the Giving Back Award. Haught helped bring such staples as the Next Generation Leadership Conference and Honors Service week to fruition while also serving as President of the Honors Voices Club.

“For me, it’s just such an awesome opportunity to feel like the things that I did to serve actually blessed people because sometimes you don’t get to see the results of what you do,” she said. “Getting to see that I had an impact on some people was pretty cool.”

Camden Marasco (center) is presented with the Inspirational Leader Award by Alle Nichols (left) and Jackson Billings.

Another notable name to be recognized was incoming Associated Students of GCU President Camden Marasco.

Much like Haught, giving Marasco the Inspirational Leader Award made sense.

“The Honors College is fantastic," he said, "and I was really a part of it my freshman and sophomore year. And then junior year I’ve sort of branched out a little bit more.

“Getting to do different things on campus but still have the support and the platform of the Honors College has always been really incredible.”


  • Inspirational Leader Award: Camden Marasco
  • Academic Excellence Award: Alle Nichols
  • Giving Back Award: Lena-May Haught
  • Champion of Character Award: Madeline Landes and Oliver Boleratzky
  • Faculty of the Year: Dr. Ed Slover, Colangelo College of Business
  • Outstanding Freshmen of the Year: Elayna Anderson
  • Outstanding Senior of the Year: Gaige Graham
  • Distinguished Achievement Award: Jackson Billings, Erik Yost, Emalee London, Spencer Hahn, Jayden Orr, Taylor Remley
  • Appreciation Award for Service & Dedication: Dr. Jonathan Olson, CHSS; Trevor Duston, CHSS; Sam Bradford, board member; Dr. Chris Yoo, board member; Jessica Landes, Honors intern; Amara Murray-Bell, Honors intern
  • Dean's Award: Kendall Smith


  • STEM Category: "A Guide to Sending Research to Space in One Year," Erik Yost and Nathanael Olsen
  • Digital Arts, Film, and Performing Arts: "Pas De Deux," Teagan Wedgie, Simon Gary, Sarah Parker, Samantha Clemmons, Daniel Ulibarri
  • Ministry, Service and Community Outreach: "Serving the Underserved of Mexico," Brian Durbin
  • Business, Entrepreneurship & Internships: GCU Women of Business, Isabelle Rakestraw
  • Humanities and Education: Project 681, Mary Szabo and Mikayla Anderson


  • P.A.C. Professional Development Program
  • Young Athena Valley of the Sun Leadership Program
  • College-to-Corporate Leadership Academy

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Naegeli promoted to dean of growing Honors College

GCU Today: Honors Research Symposium highlights diversity

GCU Today: Symposium shows variety of students’ research


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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

David said to Michal, "It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when He appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel — I will celebrate before the Lord. (2 Samuel 6:21)

To Read More: www.verseoftheday.com/