My goodness, students put character on display

Sophomore Teige Lorenzo-Akamu takes part in an exercise on civic virtue during a meeting of the Lopes Lead with Character student group.

Photos by Ralph Freso

It was the supper hour on Wednesday. People should have been tired and cranky.

People will never forget how you made them feel.

We were in a classroom with florescent light and no windows.

Provide an inviting smile.

It’s a 6:10 p.m. hunger.

Give support to those who may have none.

The italic statements are from Grand Canyon University students, writing on five big sheets of paper taped on the walls during a Lopes Lead with Character session held monthly via GCU’s Canyon Center for Character Education. Any major can come. Even the cranky ones, who might just feel better afterward.

Assistant professor Chesa Mendez discusses virtues with students during a meeting of the Lopes Lead with Character student group.

“How do I become the best version of myself?” asked the group facilitator, Chesa Mendez, assistant professor in the College of Education, while Dr. Crystal McCabe ran a virtual session earlier.

There were a lot of questions, a lot of thinking about being good.

“It sounds corny and cliché, but it really is the foundation for everything,” Mendez said as the students wrote on big sheets about ways to show compassion and civic virtues and how to give back.

“If people’s needs aren’t met, they are not being cared for, nothing really gets done. Even for people who have success in life, if those core needs are not met, it shows in other ways. That’s why you see people in their 60s in therapy because they never got taken care of.

“The younger people are when they learn how to be in society, the better society will be. It is important for them to get it.”

Students fed off others' comments during the exercise.

So they wrote.

Giving a safe space for everyone.

Take yourself outside yourself.

And they discussed.

“I did my roommate's dishes,” said one student.

“A lot of people talked about how, here, it’s an unconscious part of our day-to-day life and patterns,” said another. “It’s very cool to see the GCU culture up close, holding the door open and smiling.”

But few ever think about it explicitly – the bad or good they do. The group was formed by CCCE so GCU students think about the impact they make on the world.

“The goal of this group is to help university students think about their own character, bettering themselves, and how their character will make a lasting impact in the world,” said Emily Farkas, CCCE Program Director. “This will help set them apart as a leader and professional as they enhance their virtue, character and practical wisdom.”

CCCE also held its Wisdom for Good retreat for faculty and staff earlier this week, which is where, last year, Mendez heard about helping with this group.

Juniors Chloe Houge (left) and Jayden Brust write their thoughts on ways to show character during a group exercise.

Maybe that’s why she liked one student’s scribbling on the board:

Ripple effect.

Junior Chloe Houge wrote that.

“It’s all a ripple effect,” she said afterward. “Everything you are and everything you become affects everyone else. And that’s everywhere.”

All at once.

“You never know who you are affecting, anyone on the street, or also as educators, knowing that, especially in early childhood education, you are shaping them,” Houge continued. “You are like their mom or dad at school. So the way you are in your personae and what you hold close to yourself, what you display to them, they pick up on and assimilate that, too.”

Professor Chesa Mendez shares a moment with students during an exercise on civic virtue.

Many students in attendance were from the College of Education, though a couple of business students joined in. They are serious about bringing character to the classroom, a key mission of CCCE.

And often that starts with the teacher thinking about their own virtues.

“I didn’t realize I did so many civic virtues in my daily life. It’s because it’s a habit,” said elementary education major Teige Lorenzo-Akamu. “Thinking about it and brain-storming makes me see how good I am.”

She laughed, sometimes there's no need to be falsely humble.

Lopes Lead with Character sessions: 6 p.m. Nov. 8 and Dec. 13, Building 33, Room 208
CCCE courses: "Understanding My Character," "Building My Character" and "Using My Character." Email [email protected] for information

“I’m very proud of myself. ... I just want to be able to give to kids the education they deserve and be there for them as a teacher and also as an adult who cares about them.”

She sounds nice.

Maybe that’s why during the class a friend brought her flowers, a 19th birthday present. She stood near the poster of ways people show compassion, where someone wrote:

Being a friend and someone your friends can rely on for anything.

“She was showing compassion,” Lorenzo-Akamu said.

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


Related content:

GCU News: Character Center's retreat explores 'what it is to be good'

GCU News: Kern grant launches Character Education center


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Bible Verse

Jesus taught his disciples, saying: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12)

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