Commencement celebrates sense of community

Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau

It was a nostalgic walk for Noah Wolfe on Thursday morning from the Student Life Building to Grand Canyon University Arena to take part in commencement.

Noah Wolfe, ASGCU President for 2018-19, delivers the prayer at the Thursday morning commencement ceremony.

Past the spot where he was inaugurated as president of the Associated Students of GCU last year.

Past the corner of the Natural Sciences Building, where he checked in for his Discover GCU trip as a high school senior.

Past all the new buildings and facilities that have fanned out across the campus.

Now he was part of the largest graduating class in the University’s 70-year history – 25,232 graduates in the 2018-19 academic year, many of them celebrating at one of the eight commencement ceremonies scheduled across Thursday through Saturday.

He couldn’t help but be nostalgic. So much personal growth. So much University growth.

So much of everything … and yet one thing has remained the same.

“One of the things that I’ve appreciated the most about that growth is just seeing how the culture of who we are has remained intact,” said Wolfe, whose degree is a Bachelor of Science in Business Management.

Carly Smith was amazed by how the Colangelo College of Business faculty assists students.

“The University experience as far as community goes, as far as intentional-ness and genuineness, as far as spiritual dedication goes, when I came here as a high school senior for my Discover trip and as a freshman is still intact, even ’til yesterday.”

It’s a feeling that also struck Carly Smith, the student speaker at the Thursday morning ceremony, as she crafted her talk.

“There’s just something about this place and what God is doing here that just attracts people from around the world – literally around the world,” said Smith, a member of the Honors College who earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and also was a member of the Honors College. “As we’ve gotten bigger, the impact we’ve made on the city of Phoenix has been incredible.

“And then the faculty – this school is incredible. I’ve had faculty who know your name, their doors are always open, they pour their time and their resources into helping you succeed. Where else are you going to go to get that experience? The people are amazing. Most people here at GCU have something in common, and that’s Christ.”

A Class of 2019 graduate is fired up after receiving his diploma.

Moments later, her words about both the faculty and the feeling were confirmed when one of her former Colangelo College of Business instructors, Dr. Eduardo Borquez, came by to congratulate her and wish her well.

Full-circle support.

The sense of community extended to the ceremony itself. After thanking the graduates for all they’ve done, GCU President Brian Mueller noted that if you lined up 10 students, at least nine of them would say that the thing they like most about GCU is the sense of community.

“You have built this community that exists and that you enjoy,” he told them.

To underscore his point, he said he had just gotten off the phone with former Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, who wants to utilize GCU students in more projects – just because of who they are and what they offer.

Keynote speaker Gian-Paul Gonzalez urged students to be "all in."

Keynote speaker Gian-Paul Gonzalez, who also addressed the fall and winter commencements last year, gave the students food for thought with his never-gets-old “All In” talk.

“Being ‘all in’ isn’t a feeling,” he told them, “it’s an action.”

The action figures to begin soon after the commencement hoopla has ended. Not surprisingly, Wolfe and Smith already have jobs – Wolfe will work for the University in donor relations, and Smith caught on with an LLC in Deer Valley.

They’re ready to go out and make an impact. But as GCU grads, that carries a little different meaning.

“The GCU experience is unique because you’re not just equipped to make an impact in your career field,” Smith said in her talk, “you’re equipped to make an impact in your life.”

Asked what he’s going to miss most, Wolfe had a simple answer: “Waking up and getting Chick-fil-A for breakfast.”

It's always a big moment at the end when the confetti drops.

But then there’s something much more satisfying.

“Just the ability to experience such dynamic community so simply,” he said. “Take a long board ride 50 yards and see so many friends that I know. Unexpected conversations that you never thought you would have – that’s a unique culture of college, and I think it’s something that I’m going to miss a lot.”

Yes, it was a day for nostalgia, a day for walking past four years of memories.

A day to celebrate … as a community.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


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