Class of 2013 Commencement Blog From Day 2

Grand Canyon University Communications staffers blogged Friday from commencement ceremonies in GCU Arena. Check back on Saturday for another blog installment with updates and stories about the Class of 2013

Creating disruptive strategies

Artist/motivational speaker Erik Wahl has been a big hit during commencement ceremonies this week at Grand Canyon University, captivating audiences with his quick-fire portraitures and uplifting message.

If you want one of his paintings, they’re not for sale. He only gives them to clients or to charities. (Singer Pink once bid $10,000 for his painting of Marilyn Monroe). As he explained to graduates of the Ken Blanchard College of Business on Friday afternoon, that kind of creative approach to business actually drives up the value of the paintings because demand is higher.

But for those of you without an extra 10K tucked in the cushions of your couch, there is another way to secure one of his portraits. Wahl told the audience at GCU Arena Friday he is giving away this painting of LeBron James (see photo at right) during an “art drop” in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

The portrait will be hidden at an undisclosed location, and the first person to find it gets to keep it. At 9:01 p.m. Friday, Wahl will give the first clue to its whereabouts via his Facebook page ( and Twitter account (@erikwahl).

He said each clue will unlock another clue and probably within 15 minutes he said people will start to put things together and “there will be a foot race” to the final destination.

Anyone can participate – you don’t have to be a graduate – and Wahl said the clues “will be things that people in Phoenix would know about and others wouldn’t.”

“I’d rather have an engaged consumer than a passive buyer,” Wahl said of the art-drop strategy. “That’s why I never sell any of my paintings.”

It’s the same message he gave to business graduates Friday afternoon about "creating disruptive strategies," urging them to take creative approaches to business and not be afraid to color outside the lines.

“We don’t want business as usual,” Wahl said. “We want something that catches people off guard and creates interest.”

Wahl created portraits of Abraham Lincoln and the Statue of Liberty during the morning commencement on Friday, followed by Michael Jordan and Mickey Mouse in the afternoon ceremony.

-- Bob Romantic

A second degree, with 68 years of separation

The first time that Patti Burson graduated from college, she hurried back to New York City from Reading, Pa., to show her diploma to her father as he recovered from a heart attack.

That was 68 years ago, in 1945, and she showed up at Grand Canyon University on Friday morning to claim a second degree, this time a master’s in marriage and family therapy from the College of Arts and Sciences. Burson, 89, made the trip from San Diego, where she lives with her husband of 16 years, John Burson.

“She didn’t know much about computers when she started, and I helped her with that,” said John, 56, a personal trainer who discovered voice-recognition software that helped Patti compose her essays.

“This has been a lifelong goal of hers, to get this degree. When she was younger, life got in the way.”

Patti, who works in research in the pharmaceutical field, persevered through a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma less than two years ago and also a recent back ailment. She said she wants to help baby boomers and seniors who may have lost their way.

“Some of them retired too early,” she said. “I don’t believe anyone should retire unless they’re unhealthy.... How much golf can you play?

“My journey through GCU has been great, and I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Patti credited John for support (“He’s the old soul and I’m the little kid”) and Enrollment Counselor Philip Mooney for encouragement. Her family always has valued education, she said; one daughter is a social worker, and another works with special-needs children.

If she can do this, well, what’s your excuse?

"With her energy level, she seems a lot younger," John said. "To this day, some of her friends don't know how old she is. They're amazed by her."

-- Doug Carroll

Former businessman, now pastor, completes what he started

Although Wendell McGinnis Jr. left the business world for the ministry 15 years ago, he completed some unfinished business on Friday by obtaining his bachelor's degree from GCU's College of Theology.

"I learned things that I thought I knew -- but didn't know," said McGinnis, 61, of Berlin, N.J., who pastors a Baptist church in the Woodbury area.

"It was intimidating at first, very challenging, and yet it was very rewarding."

Two years ago, he decided it was time to complete work on his degree, and he's not even sure how GCU came on his radar.

"The Lord led me to follow through," he said. "A door opened, and I stepped through it."

His wife and oldest son accompanied him to Phoenix for commencement, but their attendance wasn't required.

"I was going to come if no one else did," McGinnis said. "I haven't walked, and I wanted the experience. I'm glad to be here."

-- Doug Carroll

Aussie athlete scores 2 goals with pair of GCU degrees

Ben Paneccasio traveled nearly 9,500 miles to earn an education. On Friday, his long journey came to an end.

Paneccasio moved to the United States from Sydney, Australia, in 2007 to pursue a college degree and play soccer.

He attended Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas – a city roughly 100 miles from Dallas – before transferring to GCU in 2009.

Paneccasio earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science in 2011 and stayed at the University to become a part of the strength and conditioning staff in the Athletic Department. He's graduating this week with a master’s degree in business administration.

Paneccasio was a star goalkeeper in two seasons as an Antelope, posting a 29-6-5 record and anchoring two Pacific West Conference championships. He holds the GCU record for most shutouts and lowest goals-against average in a season.

“Having both these degrees broadens my horizon,” Paneccasio said. “Having my business background, if I ever did want to open up a business, I have the opportunity to do that.”

-- Cooper Nelson

Graduation's their gig: That's the New Life life 

The bus was parked outside GCU Arena, gassed up and ready to roll by the time the New Life Singers wrapped their national anthem at today’s 10 a.m. commencement ceremony.

GCU’s vocal ensemble promptly departed for a two-week tour of California, where the group – which includes three graduates of the Class of 2013 – will perform their contemporary worship music at churches and schools. For the graduates, the commencement performances of the past two days marked their final campus performances as members of New Life. However, they might all be reunited in August for a party/performance to celebrate the release of the group’s first CD.   

“The group has been a blessing because of the people and the experiences, traveling together,” said Laura Encinas, 22, one of the three New Life grads.

Encinas graduated this week with two bachelor’s degrees, and she’s going after a third. She completed her double-major in music with a concentration in vocal performance and Christian studies. But she’ll return to GCU by January to go after a nursing degree. Sam Brunner (bachelor’s in psychology with a vocal performance minor) and Christopher James Van Natten (bachelor’s in music) also earned diplomas this week.

Each of the three New Life grads said they learned about professionalism and faith serving as ambassadors for GCU on the road.

“The tour is where we get closest as a group and where that family atmosphere shines,” Van Natten said.

-- Michael Ferraresi

From homeless to doctoral student

As Abe Parker walked across the stage Friday morning to receive his master’s degree in Christian Studies, it was quite a different experience than when he first arrived at Grand Canyon University.

Parker was taking online classes at GCU from his home in Austin, Texas, in 2012 when he lost his job and his apartment. With nowhere to go, he packed all of his belongings into two duffel bags and traveled to Phoenix, figuring he could attend a cohort group at GCU with the College of Theology and get some inspiration before heading back home.

But there was really nothing to go back to, so he stayed even though he had no place to stay and took classes. Essentially homeless, he hid one duffel bag in some bushes and kept the other on hand, and found a couch or bench on campus (Chapel was open 24 hours a day) where he could study and often just fell asleep.

“Let’s just say I hung out on campus quite a bit,” said Parker, an Army veteran.

After a month of doing this while looking for employment, Parker said several GCU employees learned of his situation. Military Enrollment Manager Brett Mitnick thought Parker’s upbeat attitude was a great fit as an enrollment counselor. Parker aced the interview and by the fourth quarter of 2012 was the top-rated enrollment counselor in the College of Theology.

“Looking back, it’s very surreal,” Parker said of his journey. “First of all, my faith in God got me through. And, second, if I didn’t have school to focus on, I really would have lost it. With school, every week there is some kind of assignment due, so I had to stay focused. Having something to do with my life, even though it was falling apart, and having that goal in mind, that’s what got me through.”

Parker has already started work on his doctorate in organizational leadership with an emphasis in Christian ministry.

-- Bob Romantic

The hardest-working team in graduation

Thursday's first day of commencement ran smoothly, as a combined 712 graduates and a crowd of about 7,400 visitors packed GCU Arena for ceremonies for traditional students. Jennifer Girl and her GCU events staff were the unsung heroes of the day, ensuring that graduation was a memorable day for all.

Girl and a core team of 12 events and Arena staff members, including Senior Events Director Helen Bleach, Jessica Ertell, Maggie Lind, Tira Montgomery, Michelle Chavez and Sabrina Peoples, began commencement set-up at 12:30 a.m. Thursday following a Chris Tomlin concert in the Arena.

They've had plenty of coffee and the help of about 100 volunteers. The addition of a third day this year has added to the challenge.

“Even though it’s the same flow, every day and every ceremony is different,” Girl said. “I don’t think there is a defined way for us to say it’s easier. It is for the students and their families, and we want to make it great for them.”

-- Cooper Nelson

Safety resources in place for busy Friday, Saturday

When it comes to security, no news is good news.

Thursday’s commencement ceremonies went off without any significant incidents for public safety personnel to respond to. Teams were in place to cover the events today and Saturday. Resources include GCU’s campus public safety officers, in addition to a four-man team of Phoenix Police neighborhood-safety officers who patrol the campus on bicycles. Other off-duty Phoenix police will help monitor traffic flowing in and out of campuses entrances. 

The added visibility of uniformed officers helps generate a perception of safety and allows all visitors to campus to be greeted by security staff, said Kenny Laird, GCU’s assistant public safety director.

The Phoenix police neighborhood-enforcement team, or NET units, partner with GCU on various neighborhood safety initiatives. Uniformed officers on bicycles are able to cover the entire campus and link into emergency services if needed.

-- 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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