● Slideshow and replay of Friday evening ceremony.
Story by Ashlee Larrison
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
As Kendall Smith walked into Grand Canyon University Arena on Friday evening, a sense of nostalgia washed over her.
Her first Welcome Week in 2018 introduced the then shy but eager freshman to her potential for growth and a safe and encouraging environment to break out of her shell.
Lope Country became her home away from home.
Now, four years later, a poised, confident woman with an abundance of Honors College cords draped over her shoulders found herself looking out over a crowd of her peers and their families as she reflected on the journey.
“Grand Canyon University was my first choice when applying to college,” she told the audience. “After just one tour, I was amazed by how uplifting the culture here was. I couldn’t wait to start.”
During her time on campus, Smith effectively tackled two degree programs, in digital film and dance, and was an active member of the Honors College.
There wasn’t a GCU dance concert, Honors event, Lip Sync battle or film festival where Smith’s luminous spirit wasn’t felt.
The more she got involved, the more she became a force on campus, culminating in her selection as the College of Arts and Media (CAM) student speaker for Spring Commencement.
The initial invitation came as a shock but was nothing short of humbling for her.
“I was super excited,” Smith recalled.
From there, with the help of CAM Dance Director Bekki Price and Dean Dr. Craig Detweiler, she found the perfect way to sum up her experience in a nearly five-minute speech.
During her time at the podium, Smith guided audiences through her own gratitude for the University that never once stopped pouring into her and her fellow graduates.
From offering free and efficient COVID testing on campus and providing state-of-the-art resources to providing safe performance alternatives such as CAM’s outside stage, she felt as if there was no limit on how far the University would go to provide a meaningful, memorable experience to each student.
There is an endless number of reasons to be grateful, and that was Smith’s message.
“I hope that students, when they graduate, that they’re proud to be Lopes,” she said. “I hope all the graduates feel very thankful for all GCU has done for them.”
Having the opportunity to reflect and share her gratitude in front of thousands made the moment that much more bittersweet.
“You all have truly made these the best four years of my life,” she concluded as she looked over a sea of excited faces. “God bless … Lopes Up and Lopes out.”
Smith plans to continue working for the Honors College as a graduate assistant while she pursues her Master of Business Administration degree.
From there, she hopes to continue her freelance work as a photographer and videographer with a goal of one day auditioning for the Rockettes, an American precision dance company.
“I’ll do whatever God has in store for me,” she said with a smile.
If the last four years are any indication, He has nothing but big plans.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].