A family's story of joy and goodbyes at Move-In

Brendan Quinn is welcomed to GCU by students on Monday at Move-In. 

Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by Enrique Lucha
GCU News Bureau

They’re all packed in the Ford F-150 pickup. Mom and dad in front. Last son in the back with his college-room stuff. The line of vehicles inches forward, crawls toward the future.

“It’s like Disneyland, on the way up the roller coaster,” said Brendan Quinn, a freshman at Grand Canyon University. “Click, click, click. You can hear the screams ahead. You know it’s coming.”

He is describing the exuberant welcome of a GCU Move-In -- hundreds of students forming a tunnel of love, dancing and cheering as the vehicles roll up to be surrounded and quickly unloaded. But he may as well have been describing what it’s like for the whole family, a nest emptied of children, a child now a young man, excited and ready for the thrill ride that is college.

There is nervous energy in the car.

“This is a major life change,” said Brendan’s mom, Danielle Quinn.

“Should I roll the window down?” Brendan asked.

“I think you should,” Mom said.

Students’ faces appear in the window. They are yelling. Brendan beams. He high-fives outstretched arms.

The view from the vehicle window: pure joy of fellow GCU students.

The pickup suddenly bounces. A student has bounded onto its bed, hoisting storage tubs. Brendan laughs.

“They work in no time, holy cow,” he said. “They don’t play around.”

Here they are, from California to college, and into the future. Brendan joins 7,500 newcomers to GCU, most of them off-loaded by a family along to say their goodbyes, to mark a life moment with their phones set on video, pushed up to the dash like Danielle’s.

“It’s going to be the best time in his life. I can’t wait to watch it unfold,” said Danielle, whose family agreed to share their Move-In day experience. “He is ready.”

Brendan has always been ready to go. Born 30 minutes after mom hit the delivery-room bed. “When I first put him down to walk, he ran,” Danielle said.

His parents call him B.

He has a mind of his own. And his mind was not set on GCU.

“Somewhere with a beach,” Brendan said of what he was thinking after high school in Brentwood, Calif.

He also was offered a scholarship for volleyball at a school back east.

And there was this, Brendan said: “I didn’t want to go here because my dad really wanted it.”

Dad is Corey Quinn. He’s a retired Bay Area homicide cop. Arms as big as some legs. He heard about this college in Phoenix.

Corey Quinn gave a hand -- and advice -- to his son at Move-In.

“One of my biggest fears, being a cop and raising a kid with certain solid foundations, was that they are going to be ruined by a type of academic environment common today,” he said.

“I knew GCU was a good fit, but he’s just like me. You can’t tell him.”

Brendan had to find out himself. He visited campus and was blown away. It was bigger than he thought and smaller -- a big place that feels like a small community. After going to Chapel, he was sold.

“This is where I need to be -- a big school with a Christian experience. I could include God in what I’m doing,” he said.

The news delighted his parents. Corey had stayed home with his two boys since they started high school, after retiring from the police force because of injuries.

“The best thing was to be there for the two boys through high school,” Corey said. “You are there for the questions and the guidance. I was able to be there and go through the transitions in their lives.”

He even picked out his son’s new bath towels – a sure item of adulthood.

Mom Danielle (left) helps her son arrange his bathroom items.

Oldest son Aidan decided to play football at Arizona Christian University in Phoenix last year. That ride home to California after dropping off Aidan at college was rough. They didn’t stop the whole way home, driving in silence. The Quinns planned a move out of the Bay Area, which they said had grown too expensive, to settle in Texas after Brendan graduated from high school.

But after he enrolled at GCU, there were new plans. “How would you like to spend four more years near your sons?” Corey asked Danielle.

So the Quinns moved to Surprise in June, right down the road from both sons. Danielle got a transfer from Starbucks to manage a location here.

But taking your last son to college is the same from a dozen miles as several hundred. It’s an ending, of sorts, and a beginning.

The family enters Acacia, a residence hall on campus, and waiting in the room are five plastic tubs from Costco, a big fan and a box from Amazon, ready to unpack. Dad does the screwdriver work on the fan base, mom pulls out bathroom items.

Brendan arranges an entire wall of calendars, photograph holders and framed vinyl album covers with the meticulous care of a decorator.

Except it's crooked, so dad teases him, because that’s what dads do.

“I’m blaming you,” Brendan says. “It’s the weak gene pool.”

“Whatever,” dad says.

Father and son are more alike than different, though.

“His brother breezes through life. He figures it will all work out, and it always works out," Corey said. "Brendan is smart, but he has to work hard, more like me.”

Brendan Quinn (left) greets new roommate Ryan Guenette.

The unpacking goes on for an hour, then seeps into the next. They are taking their time savoring it, when Brendan is asked what he will miss most about his parents.

“My dad’s cooking. He is great at barbecue. And my mom is fun to hang out with.”

For the first time, Danielle's son won’t be just across the hallway. It will be an adjustment, she said, but if there is one thing she wished for her son as he finished unpacking, as he stood back and with a slight smile liked what he saw, was that he have a good life ahead here.

“It happened in a blink,” she said of his growing up. “But it still feels like it snuck up on us. I’m not worried about his education. I want him to have the best time. I want him to put himself out there. There is so much here for him. I want him to experience things that he hasn’t.”

Corey, sitting now at the desk below the lofted bed, reflects on his late father, who met his Korean wife in the military and had a hard working life before dying at age 52. The guy was tough as nails, he said. He told his kids to get educated so they’d have it easier. Brendan could do that now, working toward an education in business administration at GCU.

“I wanted to teach these boys you’ve got to be tough. You are either the sheep or the sheep dog. Which do you want to be? Nothing is given to you. You gotta go get it,” Corey said.

Then they went off to eat lunch for the first time under different roofs, to say their goodbye.

“It’s a little tough to let go sometimes, I’m not going to lie,” Danielle said. “It’s hard to let go. He might just say, ‘Thank you for raising me,’ and kiss me on the top of the head and be gone. I have to prepare myself for that.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.


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