Changes won't take welcome out of Welcome Week

Welcome back has never had such meaning.

By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau

The global pandemic has taken a lot, but it can’t take Welcome Week at Grand Canyon University.

Ebullient weeklong activities will be scaled back and spread out as students return to campus starting Sept. 21 but will retain its spirit.

“We have been very committed to making Welcome Week very involving, exciting and meaningful for students because, more than ever, this is the class that needs to be told that we are glad you are here, and it’s going to be a good semester for you,” said Charity Norman, Director of Welcome Programs.

Welcome Week launches with students moving in to residence halls Monday-Friday, but this year all events are Friday-Sunday. The weekend highlights include a Saturday night Welcome Fest and a Sunday night One Love Awareness Walk.

Welcome Week is the threshold of the GCU experience, especially for new students, and the first step is important, “particularly for this student body, this incoming class,” Norman said.

Charity Norman

“They graduated from high school and didn’t get a graduation ceremony; they didn’t get to go to prom; they had to spend their summer sitting in their parents’ houses. Then their fall semester was pushed back a few weeks and is facing modifications for the health and safety of everyone. So it’s important to show them they can have a good and meaningful experiences, and we are doing the best to show them they can.”


The week typically begins with a parade of loaded vehicles, carrying emotional parents, excited students and all their stuff, to be cheered on by GCU students and staff. This year, the express check-in that utilized 3,000 volunteers to cheer and unload vehicles and put items in rooms was changed to move-in by appointment, when one student volunteer will help load a moving cart and wish them well. It’s all to limit the crowds and all its breathy yelling, sweat and close contact.

“It’s for the protection of the community,” Norman said. “The good thing about appointment move-in is it isn’t the first time we’ve done it. We started it last year (for returning students), and it was successful. It takes less time to get all the students in, and there is much less waiting in line. But we aren’t doing away with all the fanfare. We’re trying to infuse it with as much enthusiasm and safety as we can.”

This year, nearly 1,000 volunteers and student leaders will be injecting that enthusiasm, just like they saw in earlier years.

Jennifer Ayon

“I fell in love the minute I rolled on campus and through the gates, seeing that love from all the people I didn’t even know,” said Jennifer Ayon, a senior student leader, recalling her first Move-In in 2016.

Since then, she has been involved in all aspects of the experience with Welcome Programs and will be checking in students at residential housing this year. There will still be music and signs and what Ayon calls “that GCU love.”

“That’s what we do at GCU – make the best of every possible situation,” she said.


The featured events held each day in prior years all will be on the weekend to avoid piling too many things on the plates of students who are trying to move in and still go to classes, which started online earlier this month.

It also helps to limit the potential coronavirus spread by grouping all the events from 6-9 p.m. Saturday at one big Welcome Fest in several locations via reservation.

Nearly every department of the University is involved.

The main stage, called Stage Connect, at Juniper and Willow fields will include music and entertainment, hosted by Caleb Duarte and Welcome Programs; Campus Recreation will host Welcome Back at the CAC with games and rock wall climbing; Spiritual Life will have an ice cream social; the Canyon Activities Board will hold a Barbecue Bingo; and the Involvement Fair will move outdoors to a location next to Building 25 with two dozen departments and colleges showing students how to engage.

The trick was limiting crowds in one spot, so students will make reservations for events they want to attend on the GCU Engage app. Staff checks them in for an allotted period before a clearing crew sanitizes the area and the next scheduled group arrives.

Hauling stuff is a right of passage to Move-In.

“It’s designed to show what events are going to look like for students during the school year to help them get acclimated to the masks, the distancing, the reservation and check-in systems,” Norman said.

It also introduces students to all the different clubs, intramurals and events during the year, starting with Movie Night at several outdoor locations on Friday and ending with a meaningful One Love Awareness Walk, organized by the Multicultural Office and designed to unite the GCU community.

“We are making the best of it, and we want to teach the students they can make the best of it, too,” Norman said.

“Student leaders in the welcome crew are excited. They do that role because they want to serve students, so for many of them this is the first step they are taking to serve students. They are just excited to be back around people in three dimensions again.”

“Oh my gosh,” said Ayon, “I’m so ready. I think this year is definitely something for the books.”

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



Resident move-in appointments, 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday, Sept. 21-25

Adult learner social, 3-4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, Arena patio

Multi-Plex Movie Mania, 6:15 p.m. doors, 7 p.m. start Friday, Sept. 25, multiple locations (Quad, Grove Lawn, GCU Arena)

New international student orientation, 10 a.m.-noon, Saturday, Sept. 26, Zoom

Commuter orientation groups, 5-7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 26, Student Advising Services Building lawn

Welcome Fest, 6-9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, multiple locations

One Love Awareness Walk, 5:30-9 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 27, meet in front of GCU Arena


Related content

GCU Magazine: GCU task force made fall plan a care package

GCU Today: Going behind the scenes to make Move-In magic

GCU Today: A family’s story of joy and goodbyes at Move-In


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