Class of 2013 Commencement Blog From Day 1


Grand Canyon University Communications staffers are blogging from commencement ceremonies in GCU Arena today, Friday and Saturday. Check back throughout the day for updates and stories from the Class of 2013

Afternoon ceremony packs Arena as more than 400 receive diplomas

A crowd of 4,628 visitors nearly filled GCU Arena to capacity for the Thursday afternoon commencement ceremony for traditional campus graduates of the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Education, Fine Arts and Production, Theology and the Ken Blanchard College of Business.

More than 460 graduates received their diplomas, including 214 from the College of Arts and Sciences. They included future teachers, artists, scientists and ministers.

GCU President and CEO Brian Mueller began the ceremony by addressing the rapid growth of academic programs at the featured colleges, which range from CAS forensic science programs to COFAP music programs. Mueller also thanked student leaders for their contributions to growing Christian culture on campus and helping their fellow students adapt to life at GCU.

“We’re dependent on you, and you guys really deliver,” Mueller said to the students.

Dr. Kathy Player, GCU’s associate provost, thanked the deans of each of the five colleges for “shaping and actualizing (the University’s) mission in the world.” She addressed the graduates directly, reminding them that their graduation from the University marked the beginning of many long-term relationships.

“To your left and to your right are the friends and colleagues who will follow you through the rest of your lifetimes,” Player announced to the graduates.

-- Michael Ferraresi

Nursing student made no small plans

Sara Jessop kept her life in a planner. A “big” planner.

Her juggling act consisted of managing assignments in the fast-track nursing program, memorizing and performing choreography as a member of the Grand Canyon University dance team and planning her wedding. When it became overwhelming, she would return to the planner for direction – and a little solitude.

Jessop, 21, whose maiden name is Vasquez, graduated with her bachelor’s degree in nursing this morning after only three years of study. On average, the program takes the full four years to complete – two years for nursing school – but Jessop elected to follow the fast-track format, forgoing her summer break to focus on finishing her degree.

“A lot of people (in the program) need summer break because the program is so mentally, emotionally and psychically draining,” said Jessop, who married Michael Jessop this past year. “For me, having that break and not doing anything nursing and then coming back would be a challenge.”

Jessop credits efficient time management and the support of her family as the reasons she was able to manage multiple tasks. Even with her hectic schedule, she left GCU accomplished, as two-year captain of the dance team, a member of the Student Nurses Association and National Society of Leadership and Success, and as one of four fast-track nursing students to earn Sigma Theta Tau honors.

-- Cooper Nelson

Scottsdale mother of three loves her school

Don't count 39-year-old Tricia Ridder among those who are ready to put Grand Canyon University in the rearview mirror. The Scottsdale mother of three, a registered nurse, said she heard God calling her into ministry three years ago, and a visit to campus confirmed it. She graduated today from the College of Theology.

"I knew this was where I should be," said Ridder, adding that "this is home and I want to be a part of this place forever."

Ridder said her two boys, ages 7 and 5, already have decided that they want to play sports at GCU. And her 14-year-old daughter is convinced that she wants to be an Antelope, too.

"With the relationships I've built here with younger students, I feel like I have more than three kids," said Ridder, adding that she would be interested in missions or spiritual-life work on campus.

-- Doug Carroll 


Graduating seniors will leave GCU with all kinds of memories of their time on campus. Here’s one you don’t hear often – or ever.

Seth Maiden, a psychology major who received his bachelor’s degree during Thursday afternoon’s commencement ceremony, was walking down the Promenade with some friends during his junior year when they decided to have some fun.

“The six of us sat down in the middle of the Promenade and started playing an intense game of Duck-Duck-Goose,” Maiden said. “At first, people walking by just looked at us weird and ignored us. We did have three students stop and watch us, though. They eventually joined the game with us and as time went on, more and more people joined the game.

“By the end, we had 30 people playing with us! It was crazy and awesome and something I’ll remember as a fun, stupid thing I did in college.”

Maiden starts as a full-time employee at the Antelope Reception Center next week while he works toward completing his master's in industrial organizational psychology.

-- Bob Romantic

Memories of long-gone, cozy little school linger

College of Arts and Sciences graduate Rachel Ray is leaving a very different Grand Canyon University than the one she originally attended.

Ray followed in the footsteps of her grandparents and parents and enrolled at GCU in 2009. At that time, the University was still in the early stages of growth with one residence hall, one cafeteria and about 4,000 traditional students. GCU is expected to have as many as 8,500 students on campus by the fall as it completes construction on a refurbished Student Union, new residence halls and other amenities.

“It has been really exciting to see the change and have the different communities and traditions (brought in by the increase of students),” said Ray, who graduates today with a bachelor’s degree in communications.

Ray, 22, served as a resident assistant and part of student leadership during her tenure. She said she enjoyed the small-community feel of the “old” GCU but feels proud that she can look back after graduation and know she was a part of something memorable.

“Through the growth, we have had the opportunity to build our own traditions as students and student leaders and the school is becoming known,” Ray said. “You want people to know about your school.”

Cooper Nelson

African transplant finds focus for financial future

Alvin Vulue knows that he would be in the minority in his native Liberia in west Africa, where civil war and social strife forced many people, like his family, to flee as refugees.

“A lot of people in Liberia aren’t going to go to four-year universities,” said Vulue, who graduates today with honors from the Ken Blanchard College of Business. “It’s not that they don’t have the drive or the intellectual capacity to do so, it’s that they can’t afford it.”

Vulue, 25, said his humble path to GCU – which began when his family immigrated to Arizona in 2001 – led to his interest in finance. This year, the business management major worked with Tim Kelley, assistant professor of entrepreneurship and economics at GCU, to propose revisions to undergraduate prerequisite courses that would provide incoming students with more information about how to responsibly manage student loan debt. The proposal is under consideration by GCU officials.

Vulue said GCU encourages students to step up and work toward change in areas where they see a need. Coming from Africa, where many young people have no opportunity to apply for financial aid, he took that challenge to heart.

“It’s one of the few schools that teach you both management and leadership,” said Vulue, who was among students inducted into the KBCOB chapter of the Delta Mu Delta business honors society in April.

-- Michael Ferraresi

Morning traffic, parking reported as smooth

The University had a parking team of a dozen people, along with a half-dozen Public Safety employees and about the same number of Phoenix Police Department officers, in place for the start of commencement. The police officers are new this year, said Steve Soukup of campus operations, and they helped with traffic control on Camelback Road.

Soukup said a total of nine shuttles -- seven from the east lots and two from the west side of campus -- were used to ferry visitors to the Arena. He said the Camelback Road parking garage was full on only the first and second levels in the morning, and Arena attendance was announced at more than 2,700. Space will fill up and numbers will go up on Friday and Saturday with online students coming to campus.

-- Doug Carroll 

'This nursing class is really close'

Alexis Eldridge sat inside GCU Arena on Thursday morning, surrounded by some of her closest nursing friends as the first of six graduation ceremonies at Grand Canyon University was about to begin.

Commencement, always a special occasion, was even more extraordinary this time as separate ceremonies were held for traditional students on Thursday, followed by ceremonies Friday and Saturday for online students.

“It’s really special for us,” Eldridge, a commuter student from Phoenix, said of the separate ceremonies. “We have all grown to know each other and love each other. This nursing class is really close.”

Eldridge, who received her bachelor of nursing degree, was one of 252 graduates from the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions at the morning ceremony. CONHCP was represented by the main campus in addition to cohort sites in Scottsdale, Mesa and Tucson.

"We were very excited we had an opportunity to have a ceremony all our own," said Anne McNamara, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions, as she wore her “I (heart symbol) Nurses” pin. “I think it lets us celebrate the way nurses like to celebrate.”

Another ceremony for traditional students from the colleges of Education, Theology, Arts and Sciences, Fine Arts and Production, and Ken Blanchard College of Business was held Thursday afternoon.

“It’s amazing to see how many family members were here for as few of graduates as we had in this group,” Pastor Tim Griffin, dean of students at GCU, said about the crowd of 2,748 in attendance for the morning commencement. “It shows how much we’re growing and how much investment there is in the success of these students from their family and friends.

“For me personally, to see so many familiar faces that I have been around on campus was an exciting thing. It shows how much vision there is at Grand Canyon to have such a hybrid model where we have a vibrant ground campus and a vibrant online community. It’s really becoming a reality.”

-- Bob Romantic

Wahl captivates audience again

Erik Wahl, back by popular demand as guest speaker for commencement, was again at his captivating best as he left to a standing ovation and high-fives from graduates at the morning commencement.

Wahl blends an uplifting message -- urging graduates to make sure they don't lose their creativity as they enter the corporate world -- with his quick-fire paintings to enthrall the audience.

On Thursday morning, he opened with a painting of Albert Einstein, then capped his speech with a rendering of Mickey Mouse (which he painted upside down). In the afternoon ceremony, he painted Bono and an upside-down Einstein. As he turned the final painting in each ceremony upright, he moved it to another easel, revealing yet another painting he had already finished – of our very own Thunder mascot.

‘Lopes Up for that move!

-- Bob Romantic

Nursing awards

McNamara handed out 19 awards during Thursday morning’s ceremony.

Receiving the academic excellence award were Wendy Barnett, Rochelle Dawood, Alyssa Marshall and Melissa Redlon.

Leadership awards went to Maurice Brown, Eleise Eastman, Alyssa Grawey and Traci Williams.

Community Service awards were given to Vincent Chapman, Leslie “Leelee” Green, Jeremy Heinzmann and Chelsea Sasso.

Peer recognition awards, voted on by the students, went to Carmela Fernandez, Hilary Hall, Megan Holland, Allysen Kelly and Traci Williams.

And Green from the Tucson cohort received an award from the Arizona Nurses Association, which included full membership for one year in the ANA.

From the faculty, Professor Sherri Spicer was given the Daisy Award for her commitment and inspirational influence to her students.

-- Bob Romantic

Pre-med studies lead to medical school acceptance for vet

While he had a sense about God earlier in life, College of Arts and Sciences graduate Ryan Miller said it took the grisly realities of war for him to become a true believer.

“I was Christian,” the former Navy corpsman said, “but I didn’t really get to know God until a couple of friends were killed and I nearly died.”

Miller, 28, served as a combat medic attached to Marine infantry units in Afghanistan and Iraq before his path led to pre-med studies at GCU. A roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2008 led to his second traumatic brain injury and badly wounded leg. He fought through rehabilitation and moved home to Arizona, with the hope of becoming a doctor.

Now Miller is set to attend medical school at University of Arizona in the fall. He joked that he has a “marathon” ahead of him for the next several years. But he is prepared for the challenge, thanks to the support of his family.

“For me, it’s a milestone rather than a finish line,” said Miller, whose wife and 3-year-old daughter will move with him to Tucson. “I’m jumping right into medical school, but I don’t want to marginalize the accomplishment … it was worth the work.”

-- Michael Ferraresi


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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

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