Onetime aspiring golfer makes the cut as Commencement speaker

Student speaker Connor Vicary addresses his fellow graduates during the Thursday afternoon Spring Commencement ceremony at Global Credit Union Arena.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

Four years ago, Connor Vicary expressed an interest in playing golf exclusively at Grand Canyon University and attended Catholic church in his native Morton, Illinois, to please his parents.

He didn’t make the Lopes men’s golf team after a tryout, but he did find his purpose.

“Because of the culture here, the relationships and his roommate, he developed a greater passion than the passion he had before, and that was the passion to serve the Lord and the passion to become an entrepreneur,” Colangelo College of Business Dean John Kaites said.

Vicary stands by the wall of employers inside the Colangelo College of Business.

“He’s an example of somebody who is not great because of his brilliance, but he’s great because he took advantage of all the opportunities that exist here for the students.”

Vicary’s achievements and his leadership skills earned him the distinction of Commencement speaker at 2 p.m. today, the first student speaker at the first of five ceremonies for traditional students today and Friday at Global Credit Union Arena.

“I never could have imagined that I am giving a Commencement speech,” said Vicary, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship. “And I never would have imagined myself, even during my freshman year, being a youth pastor.”

Vicary is grateful to have served as president of the IDEA Club, which reached new heights with its Marketplace sales. Student vendors earned more than $300,000 during the 2023-24 academic year.

IDEA Club President Connor Vicary speaks during a club meeting.

A few days before the start of the 2023 fall semester, Vicary fell ill and thought he had food poisoning. He stayed in his room, hoping to feel well enough to attend a concert.

That didn’t happen.

Vicary was taken via ambulance to St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center.

“What I thought was food poisoning was actually appendicitis and different diseases in my intestines,” Vicary said.

Doctors removed parts of his intestines and his appendix to stop toxins from moving into his upper body.

“Before I was put under (anesthesia), they said there was a chance I could die and was asked to sign a paper will,” Vicary said.

Vicary didn't sign the will, preferring to pray and send emails to his IDEA Club staff to stay on track with the club's plans.

During his 10-day stint at St. Joseph's, he didn't have access to his cell phone to alert two professors of his absence at the start of the semester.

But Vicary rebounded, just like he did as an incoming freshman with hopes of making the GCU men’s golf team.

Coach Mark Mueller spoke with Vicary during a Discover trip on a bench in front of GCU Arena, inviting him to try out for the golf team but stressing that GCU remained a fit even if he didn’t make the cut.

Mueller recalled Vicary asking several questions during their conversation.

Vicary talks about the mentorship he received in the business college.

“Kids are very disappointed and get upset if they don’t make the team, but I remember he came up and shook my hand and thanked me for giving him an opportunity,” Mueller said.

Vicary appreciated that Mueller viewed him as more than a walk-on golf candidate. He recognized that the best high school golfers often chose to attend warm weather colleges. But his father’s words about selecting a college without the ability to play golf stuck with him.

“And Grand Canyon University was that choice for me,” Vicary said.

GCU golfer Tommaso Zoretto increased the sales pitch by sending Vicary a photo of a campus pool packed with students with these words: “This is the place to be.”

Vicary also discovered this is where God was calling him to be.

“Before I came here, I was not someone who was strong in my faith,” Vicary said. “I wasn’t anti (religion). I just grew up in it, and I always nodded my head.”

Close friend and business partner Jack Godwin brought Vicary to Pella Communities and worked with underprivileged children, and former roommates inspired him to become a regular church-goer.

Vicary recalled winning golf tournaments during his senior year at Morton, and “I wasn’t saying ‘that’s all thanks to God.’ “I would say ‘thank you.’

"And now when I speak at IDEA Club or mentor the Honors individuals, it’s not about me. It’s God putting them in my life, and it’s a cool transition that I feel very genuine about.”

Vicary’s leadership skills quickly persuaded Kaites to enlist him as a youth pastor at Horizon Church in Ahwatukee, where Kaites serves as senior pastor.

“He and Jack are taking the role of caring about high school students in the Ahwatukee community. They gladly took on that opportunity,” Kaites said. "They’re traveling 25 miles to help a community that probably not a lot of GCU students would do that.”

Vicary and Jackson Godwin of Jack’s Detail Garage (from left) won the first-place prize in the AZ Venture of the Year award during Demo Day.

That commitment also helped Vicary become multidimensional.

Before arriving at GCU, “I’d usually introduce myself as ‘Connor, I golf,’ “ Vicary said.

But a bridge that helped him connect more successfully was TikTok. During his freshman year, he would post a couple of times each day with fresh content. The combination of cooperative students and GCU’s modern campus were assets to Vicary, whose followers swelled to 175,000.

Among those who trusted Vicary’s social media skills was Godwin, who needed a marketing whiz to fortify his car detail cleaning business.

“I think we just passed 50,000 followers,” Godwin said. “I (trust) him so much I don’t even have the login. And the last time I checked, we posted mainly car content. I haven’t been pushing products lately.”

Their friendship crystallized within 18 months, with Godwin engaging Vicary in his faith, to Vicary naming Godwin to the IDEA board, to Vicary serving as Godwin’s best man at his Aug. 9 wedding.

“I look up to him a lot,” Godwin said. “I really do. He's always hyping me up,  and I don't hype him up enough. But I look up to him. And he's my best friend.”

Ironically, Vicary looked to a rival for help last spring after learning he would become president of the IDEA Club for 2023-24. Belle (Rakestraw) Keane, who co-founded the successful Women in Business Club, attended Peoria East High School at the same time Vicary golfed at Morton.

“So I'm so glad we're finally rooting for the same team,” joked Keane, who graduated from GCU in September and works as a development associate at St. Vincent de Paul.

Vicary was on a mission to strengthen the IDEA Club, so he was willing to pick Keane’s brain at 6 a.m. – three hours before a 2023 spring semester final.

“And I picked her brain a lot,” Vicary recalled.

Keane, meanwhile, recognized Vicary’s passion.

“I just love how he wants other students to succeed,” Keane said. “I don't think it's the Connor Vicary Show whatsoever. It's all about his peers and just helping them in whatever venture they're starting.

Colangelo College of Business Dean John Kaites presents Vicary with his diploma.

“So it’s been awesome, just to see from one conversation and not my influence, to make the IDEA Club what it is today. It’s cool to see since that conversation where he’s brought it.”

Sales from three fall IDEA Club Marketplace events, in which students sold an array of merchandise, exceed $110,000. During the 2023-24 academic year, the event moved from the CCOB courtyard to the Quad to Prescott Field to accommodate a groundswell of vendors that expanded to more than 100 for the final Marketplace on April 5.

Robert Vera, founding director of Canyon Ventures, has served as a firm sounding board for Vicary in his IDEA Club leadership role. Vicary has been grateful for the support of Tim Kelley, chair of entrepreneurship and Canyon Angels founder, in encouraging him to lead others.

Vicary also praised CCOB professor Larry Siferd for lending his entrepreneurial experience and “pushed me to be my best from day one.”

“I think GCU teachers want to learn alongside the students, and they really want the students to succeed,” Vicary said. “And I think they are built out with a more entrepreneurial mind than a lot of other schools.

“It's genuinely helped me grow my business tremendously, but it's just advice from the many multimillionaires that are teachers.”

During the last four years, Vicary has steadily answered the questions he raised before saying goodbye to his parents and heading to the Southwest with tears in his eyes.

“It’s only thanks to the trust of John Kaites and the wonderful ability that GCU gives you to meet other Christian friends to give you the confidence to make an impact on others to change the world,” Vicary said. “And doing that through Christ is really amazing. GCU formed that, whether it's the infrastructure of just so many positive Christian events, or to the wonderful people, like my roommates, my friends, my peers, the IDEA Club.

“Also the trust of leaders here all the way up to (President) Brian Mueller who have congratulated me on my pursuit of faith, and Jerry Colangelo.

“I’m very blessed with that.”

GCU News Senior Writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]

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