Class of 2013 Commencement Blog From Day 3

Grand Canyon University Communications staffers are blogging from Saturday's third and final day of commencement ceremonies in GCU Arena.

The best seat in the house

Grand Canyon University President Brian Mueller enjoys having what he calls the best seat in the house for graduation ceremonies at GCU Arena.

“Sitting up there onstage, you can see the expressions on the graduates and see their sense of accomplishment,” Mueller said Saturday prior to the commencement for online students of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions. “There are 38-year-old people up there and each one wants to walk across that stage and be recognized for what they have done. It’s the most fun, for me, to sit there and watch them.”

Saturday afternoon’s commencement was the sixth ceremony this week at GCU Arena, and Mueller said “it still feels like the first. You just don’t get tired of this.”

The largest of the six ceremonies with 755 graduates, Saturday afternoon’s session brought the total number of graduates participating in commencement this year to 3,021 – the largest class ever at GCU. Attendance for the week was 21,638.

“As we get to be a larger university, there is such an interpersonal feel to this,” Mueller said. “For the students and faculty and counselors and everybody, you can feel the sense of accomplishment and pride and loyalty to Grand Canyon as a university.”

Mueller acknowledged the work done by Jennifer Girl, Helen Bleach and the rest of the Events staff and volunteers at the start of Saturday’s afternoon’s commencement.

“Our operations staff really has this thing down to a science,” Mueller said. “They understand the number of graduates that works for each ceremony and the number of family and friends that fits for our arena. It’s incredible the job that they do.”

-- Bob Romantic

Just say it with confidence, no matter what

The best/worst jobs at commencement fell to Dave Smith and Drea Gardelius, who each had about 1,500 names to pronounce across six different ceremonies over three days. It was the second year for Gardelius, who works out of GCU's Peoria offices. Smith, director of academic excellence for the College of Education, was pressed into service when Director of Athletics Keith Baker had to bow out because of a scheduling conflict.

"The trick to this is: Whatever comes out of your mouth, it has to sound like you know what you're saying," said Smith, scanning the program for names from the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions before Saturday's afternoon session.

Three examples of what he was up against this week: Joshila Muraleedharapanicker, Vidhubala Madhusoodanan and Princy P. Kunnakattumalayil. Names were submitted on cards by graduates at check-in, and a scanner put them up on the screen as they were read aloud.

Gardelius said she loves the gig and wouldn't trade places with anyone.

"It's the best place to be," she said of her perch on the wings of the stage at the Arena's south end. "I get to see everything.... In my job as a trainer, I'm used to talking. But this is tiring emotionally. I kind of feel like I graduated along with them."

-- Doug Carroll

Looking for LeBron: How the Wahl was won

Friday night at 9:01, artist/motivational speaker Erik Wahl – who has served as commencement speaker for Grand Canyon University this week – conducted an “art drop” in the Phoenix metropolitan area, hiding one of his coveted paintings and releasing clues regarding its location via his Facebook, Twitter and blog pages.

By 9:15, the painting had been found.

Almarie Rivera and Kelsey Davis, two GCU student workers, discovered the location of Wahl’s painting of LeBron James in downtown Scottsdale, outside the Scottsdale Fashion Square mall. The women were shopping for dresses for GCU’s third day of commencement when the first clue (a photo of the painting’s location) was posted to Wahl’s Facebook page.

Rivera said she knew the location of the first clue from her extensive knowledge of Scottsdale, and the two were en route within seconds of the clue’s release.

“I feel like I knew everything because I’m the biggest fan of Scottsdale,” said Rivera, 20, a GCU junior. “The clues, for the outsiders, would be pretty hard. It was destiny.”

The pair arrived at the location of the first clue and were prompted by Wahl to visit his blog page for the second. Rivera described the second clue as “the image of the location but from 100 feet away.” Within a matter of minutes, they were the first ones on location.

On arrival, they asked a limousine driver, whose vehicle blocked the view of the location, if he had any information on the whereabouts of the painting. He told them he had seen the painting dropped off an hour earlier and joined them on the hunt. After a few minutes of searching, Rivera, Davis and the limo driver located the painting and were congratulated by Wahl.

 They were stunned.

“I didn’t believe it at first,” said Davis, 20, a sophomore.

Rivera said she hopes to one day have James autograph the painting, but for now she plans to hang it on her bedroom wall.

Although Wahl has been doing the art drops for less than a year, they have been staged in cities such as Barcelona, London, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City and Washington, D.C.

"Once people find out where I'm performing, they spread the word virally," he said. "I want to get people out and engaged. The whole idea is to de-commoditize art. For (Rivera) to have this painting, something she couldn't afford, I love that." 

-- Cooper Nelson

‘One of the noblest professions in the world’

Dr. Kimberly LaPrade greeted 563 graduates from the College of Education’s online program on Saturday morning – the second-largest class at GCU, trailing only the 959 online nursing graduates expected for the final commencement ceremony on Saturday afternoon.

“A number of you are receiving your first, and hopefully not last, degree from GCU,” said LaPrade, the dean of COE. “A number of you are working professionals balancing the demands of family, career and study. Many of you are accustomed to burning the midnight oil in order to submit that almost-late assignment.

“Today we come together as one group, but we represent a much larger one -- the field of education and the teaching profession, one of the noblest professions in the world.”

LaPrade challenged the graduates to serve as role models for the future of education.

“We must take our profession back, and it is up to you to do that. We must promise to ourselves to inspire excellence in pedagogy and scholarship; and advance reflective, innovative and collaborative teaching practices to maximize student learning and achievement, promote servant leadership in educational communities and engage a diverse and global community of learners with purpose and passion.”

-- Bob Romantic

Can't get enough of that Thunder Big Band

There's still a buzz going about the Thunder Big Band, which made its auspicious debut earlier in the week at the Music Department's annual year-end concert. A smaller version of the 17-piece ensemble played Saturday morning and afternoon as graduates and guests filed into the Arena for commencement, and the musicians also performed the national anthem before each session.

GCU's president and CEO, Brian Mueller, and Provost Hank Radda were among those raving about the band, which came together quickly under the leadership of Paul Koch, the University's energetic director of bands.

It has been quite a first year at GCU for Koch, who also started the 55-piece Thundering Heard pep band from scratch. That band kept the Arena pumped full of life during a lengthy basketball season. Koch said he never forgot what his wife, Jacque Genung-Koch, who oversees the Antelope dance team, told him before he left for work on his first day.

"She said, 'Don't screw this up,' and I thought about that all year," Koch said Saturday.

Koch said plans for fall include concerts by wind and percussion ensembles in addition to a performance by the Thunder Big Band, which might do a Latin-music show. The Symphonic Band, which consists of those also in the pep band, will perform a spring concert.

"I've had a lot of latitude from Juan (Hernandez) with this," Koch said of the assistant dean of the College of Fine Arts and Production, who heads the Music Department. "As the (year-end concert) got closer, we had more material ready. We had enough for our own show."

-- Doug Carroll

Arena Team Shop gets in gear for Class of 2013

Newly minted grads and their families were snapping up plenty of GCU gear in the Arena Team Shop and an auxiliary stand just outside the shop. Men were going for a black-and-silver Nike golf shirt with "Grand Canyon University" imprinted on the left sleeve ($58.99), and women made a rush on the neon yellow and pink GCU T-shirts by New Balance ($16.99).

"People like things that aren't just purple," said GCU sophomore Robyn Bryce, who has worked for the shop for two years. "Especially if they've gone to school here for four years, they don't want any more purple."

Graduation-specific items, such as a purple "Purpose Found" T-shirt ($15), were sold at the outside stand. Bryce said many of the designs are original creations of the shop's manager, Rachel Byrd.

-- Doug Carroll 

Closing prayer

As we wrap up three wonderful days of graduation ceremonies and sharing the stories and events that surround them in this blog, we thought it only fitting to close with a prayer. From Nick Ely, the student body president of GCU:

“Heavenly Father, we come to you on this great day of celebration to recognize that You are good, that You are wise. God, You are the giver of every good and perfect gift. Through your son Jesus and his work on the cross, you have given us the greatest gift of life.

“God, we also just want to thank You for what You have given us here at Grand Canyon, for the relationships we have built along this road and the people we have gotten to know, for the education we have received from this faculty. And God, for the way that You have molded us and shaped us.

“We trust that this time is exactly as You intended it to be and that we are exactly where You want us to be. As we go forward, God we pray for Your blessing over each one of these students, we pray that You will go with them, that You will go before them as they go boldly into the next phase of their lives, and that they will be constantly reminded that You are good and You are to be trusted. So God, we love You and we trust You with the lives of these graduates. We pray for all these things in the name that is above all others, and that is the name of Jesus. Amen.”

-- Bob Romantic

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GCU Magazine

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