Story and photos by Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau
The campus chemistry was gradually altered on Friday afternoon, from thousands of young people intent on making their way from class to class, to laughter, hugs and leisurely reunions of Grand Canyon University students with their moms, dads, brothers and sisters.
Along the Promenade, joyful families picked up their burlap bags, donned their purple “GCU family’’ T-shirts and scattered all over campus. Families in Thunderground cheered for spares and strikes on the bowling alleys and picked up their cue sticks for billiards. Outdoor tables outside the Student Union and Lopes Way filled with hungry families fresh from touring classroom buildings and residence rooms. With 1,370 families and 4,870 family members, including students, it was the largest Family Weekend in the event's five-year history.
Amid the buzz of activity, the experience of one freshman was similar to many of her peers. Despite talking to her mother every day, she was homesick.
“I have been missing my mom a lot,’’ said Jessica Mireles as she wrapped her arms around her mom, Mariela. “I am going home for Thanksgiving, and that's still a month away, so it’s great to see her and the rest of my family now.’’
The entire family made the drive from San Diego, including her Dad, Steban, her 10-year-old sister, Natalia, and her 5-year-old brother, Steban Jr., who was determined to pick up and roll the heavy bowling ball all by himself.
“He likes to try new things,’’ said Jessica, who knows a little something about taking risks – she is the first person in her family to attend college.
The daughter of two business owners -- her mom sells products for ceremonies and her dad sells cars -- Mireles views her college responsibility with steely-eyed focus.
“I am very happy I get this opportunity with the help of my parents,’’ she said.
“It is basically them paying for my college and I take that as a blessing. To thank them, I promise that I am going to do well in my career and be successful afterward.’’
An elementary education major, Mireles aspires to be a teacher.
“I love kids,’’ she said. “I love seeing them grow and develop into bigger kids.’’
Like hundreds of families, the Mireles clan attended Family Chapel on Saturday morning despite flooded streets outside campus, teeming parking garages and schedule changes in the wake of an incredible downpour in the Valley. The storm prompted organizer Robyn Hord to make numerous decisions, including moving Family Chapel from GCU Stadium to Antelope Gymnasium.
A breakfast spread was set up in a covered space outside and families were encouraged to take their food inside. They ate, talked, listened to music and avidly listened to a passionate talk by GCU President Brian Mueller, who mixed anecdotes with reading from the Gospel of John, Chapters 3-4, and reflected on the stories of Nicodemus and the Woman at the Well, an outcast with whom Jesus devoted extensive time.
“Jesus loved people who are not like Him,’’ Mueller said. “The woman knew her life was a mess, she knew she needed a savior. And in Jesus’ kingdom, this new kingdom He was going to establish, following his death and resurrection, He wants to raise up a church whose message to the world is irresistible. And I think what a lot of us need to get shaken in is the sense that the early Christians -- against all odds -- when the Romans and the Jews were trying to snuff out this movement, they were fanatical about loving people who were not like them.’’
He told the story of Romans discarding babies who were deemed undesirable and Christians rescuing those babies as the Romans wondered, why would they care about people not like them?
In driving his point to current times, Mueller spoke of the socioeconomic and racial diversity of the GCU student body, along with that of the surrounding neighborhood, where more than 40 different languages are spoken. To the cheers of the Chapel crowd, he challenged the students of GCU to engage with their diverse surroundings and the needs of their community rather than turn away from it.
When people ask him why GCU has to grow to 30,000 students, he asks them, why we can’t have 30 Christian schools of 30,000 students.
As the rain poured down after Chapel, the Phillips family gathered near the GCU Baseball Stadium and reflected on Mueller’s message.
“It was great. He did good job,’’ said David Phillips, a dad from Las Vegas. “The context was good. He delivered a message for young people to have a vision of where to go from here. It was a good Family Weekend message.’’
In light of the rainstorm, the Phillips family reviewed their options – No. 1 on their list: the Lil Lopes Cheer and Dance clinic for youngest daughter, Lauren, who wore a GCU spirit outfit.
“It is tough on the agenda when you have to scramble and move everything outside inside,’’ said David as he conferred with his wife, Angie, his son, Zack, a GCU freshman, and his daughter, Katelyn, a high school student.
Lil Lopes Clinic
As the rain poured outside on Saturday afternoon, the Lopes Performance Center was filled with the chanting, cheering voices of girls ages 5 to 17 and boys ages 14-17. The girls on one court were learning cheer moves and stunts; the girls on the next court were learning dance moves, and the teen-age boys were learning men’s cheer moves, including holds on stunts. Afterward, the younger participants performed their new routine for a large crowd in the Student Union.
Moments later, GCU student Austin Rockwell, the emcee for the Lil Lopes performance, summoned Lope Shop assistant manager Morgan Whittington for four Lope Shop gift certificate drawings, followed by the Thunder Bolt drawing.
Denver resident Dave Argo, father of GCU freshman Dawson Argo, won the Thunder Bolt drawing.
“We are really excited,’’ he said. “The odds are really slim.’’
Dave and his wife, Susan, increased their odds by participating in the academic stamp game. By visiting specific sites on campus they earned stamps qualifying them for additional raffle tickets for the Thunder Bolt drawing.
Since the first name pulled out of the drawing was not present, Argo was asked if he had any thoughts about not waiting for the drawing:
“No, my wife would not let me do that,’’ he said. “I am not much of a shopper; I was hoping that she would win.’’
The entire family proved to be winners, however, as Dave sprinted through the Lope Shop grabbing shirts and jackets for his wife, son and daughter, and piling them up on the arms of Thunder, the GCU mascot who accompanied Argo for the 60-second dash.
Afterward, Argo said: “It feels wonderful except I was really confused about what should I grab because it is all free. Now I need a new suitcase so I can fly home.’’
Before the event, Whittington waived the $500 limit but reminded Argo that hydro flasks, technology and boutique items were exempt. As Lopes Shop staff tallied and bagged the items, they totaled $2,082.49.
Chicago family considers the future
In another corner of campus, one GCU nursing student, Brianna Manney, relaxed in the love of her billiards playing family while her high school-age sister, Marianna, wondered about joining her sibling on campus.
“We are really enjoying ourselves and it opened an option for my younger daughter to consider coming here too,’’ said their Chicago-based mother Suzanna Owen.
“I miss them a lot,’’ Brianna said. “I call now and again to catch up. I am really happy they came to explore my campus and see how I live, being so far away.’’
Family Weekend veterans
As the Lopes softball team played an exhibition game before a large crowd on Friday night, the Wolfe family stretched their legs following a drive from San Diego.
“It has been fun to watch Family Weekend attendance grow over the years, because this is our fourth year,’’ said mom, Staci Wolfe. “It is amazing every time we come back to campus and see new buildings completed, new billboards up. It is exciting to see our son graduating from a school that is growing and changing and making a difference in the community.’’
Their son, Noah, the president of the student body, was thrilled to see his mom, his dad, Will, and his siblings: Elizabeth, 17, Lydia, 13, and Joseph, 9.
“I am excited,’’ Noah said. “It has been cool each year to see the different families on campus and meet different parents. That camaraderie, that fellowship is what’s awesome.’’
Along with hundreds of out-of-state families, local families attended too, including the Turner family, one of the first to arrive at Antelope Gymnasium to see the Lopes women’s volleyball team (which swept Chicago State).
“Our daughter played volleyball in high school; we just love the sport,’’ said mom Sheri Turner, accompanied by her husband, Wayne, her young son, Russell, and her daughter, GCU freshman, Sarah.
“They only live 40 minutes away, and it is good to have them on the campus, for sure,’’ Sarah said. “Plus, my little brother hasn’t seen the campus.’’
As Russell clutched one of the 347 GCU umbrellas that were sold Saturday at the Lope Shop (along with 132 ponchos), he expressed a sentiment that echoed all over campus.
“The only thing the rain ruined was getting around from place to place easier,’’ he said. “Other than that it was OK.’’
Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or [email protected].
GCU Today: Thousands descend for jam-packed Family Weekend.