Early exit gives Winter grads a head start

Koby Caputo (left) and Alex Schaeffer enjoyed their Winter Commencement ceremony -- and the opportunity to begin "adulting."

Photos by Rick D'Elia / Slideshow Video

Grand Canyon University President Brian Mueller wanted to know how many of the graduates Thursday night were finishing college early.

Most of them raised their hands.

It’s the dominant theme at GCU’s Winter Commencement. The University makes it possible for students to avoid at least one semester of tuition and get a head start on whatever is next – a career, a master’s degree or maybe just because it’s time for the next step.

“I love college. I love the experience. But I’ve always wanted to be thrown into adulting,” said Koby Caputo, who already has done some adulting as a two-year employee of Banner Health.

He was sitting in the front row next to another cybersecurity major, Alex Schaeffer.

“It’s bittersweet, for sure, leaving the college experience, but I’m excited to get on with … adulting,” said Schaeffer, looking over at Caputo to signal his approval of such a fun word.

The early graduates had an extra reason to celebrate: They save money and can start their careers ahead of schedule.

Schaeffer, who already has been working at American Express for a year, was a commuter student his first two years and was on campus only two days a week. But he then spent his last year and a half as a campus resident, which he called “completely awesome.”

“I love the campus life, all the activities, the community aspect of it,” he said.

So leaving early is bound to produce a tinge of regret. But not much. Why don’t more students do this?

“Great question,” Schaeffer said.

Caputo was stumped, too.

“I don’t know. It gets you a better start at life,” he said.

Student speaker Jordan Jones addresses her fellow graduates.

A few rows back, Jordan Jones was sitting with another nursing grad, Lillie Brayton.

“It’s very nice that the nursing program is fast-tracked because taking a summer off from nursing school would be so hard – you’d lose motivation to go to school,” Jones said. “It’s, honestly, the best decision we ever made. We’re starting our careers earlier.”

That means the Mayo Clinic for Jones, a job to be determined in Santa Maria, California, for Brayton, who pointed to the one-semester savings as a plus.

“I knew that it was fast-tracked, and I wanted that,” she said. “I’m taking out loans every semester.”

She, too, was at a loss to understand why more students don’t finish in fewer than four years but figured it has more to do with the vibrant campus life.

“Maybe some people like to take their time during college,” she said. “I know some people don’t want to rush this experience because it is a once-in-a-lifetime type thing.”

Nursing students recite The Nightingale Pledge during the ceremony.

Indeed, Jones is sensing some of that: “I do feel like, in some aspects, my college experience was cut a little bit short by COVID and graduating early. So there’s that sense of, ‘Wow, this went by so fast.’”

But Jones’ story is atypical in another way, which is why she was chosen to be the student speaker on this night. Her grades were poor in high school, and she said the only way she was accepted into GCU was on the basis of her SAT scores.

“I was not passionate in high school. And then I found my passion at GCU and was surrounded by all my friends in nursing,” she said.

She graduated summa cum laude. Any other differences between college and high school?

“I actually enjoyed what I was learning. I was tired of reciting Shakespeare and doing geometry. I’ve always known I wanted to be a nurse, and I really wanted to excel at my studies. I felt like people always looked at me like, ‘You have to be smart to be a nurse.’ I was like, ‘OK, I am. I just never applied myself in high school.’ I proved to myself that I’m more than what people think of me.”

Marielle Bigbey (left), Olivia Herrera (center) and Victoria Renteria all earned degrees in health care administration.

Near the back of the graduate seating were two graduates with stories as similar as their health care administration majors – except for what’s next.

Marielle Bigbey would have been two credits short of qualifying for Winter Commencement but earned them last summer. Now she’s eager to get a head start on a master’s.

Olivia Herrera did the same thing last summer. Her next step is to get licensed as an X-ray technician.

“I was planning to stay for the four years, but it just worked that I could graduate early,” she said.

Standing next to them was Victoria Renteria, who plotted her early graduation carefully and achieved it even though she changed majors after her freshman year. She’s going to look for work in Los Angeles.

Seven graduates, seven different stories. But one dominant theme.

“I’m very happy with the way college turned out for me,” Jones said.

Most likely, they all would raise their hand to that.

Contact Rick Vacek, Senior Manager for Internal Communications, at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].

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