Day 2: GCU Commencement Blog

Doug Carroll, Michael Ferraresi and Bob Romantic of the GCU News Bureau are blogging from commencement on the GCU campus. Here are some of their stories and observations from Friday’s ceremonies for the Colleges of Nursing, Education and Doctoral Studies. Check back for updates throughout the day.

Iraq Vet Mom Takes Risk... and Takes Marilyn Home to New Jersey

When artist Erik Wahl asked his audience of GCU graduates to raise their hand if they were willing to take a risk, Tina Tyler's arm shot straight into the air.

The 35-year-old mother and Army veteran traveled from New Jersey to accept her diploma Friday for graduating with a degree in cross-catergorical special education. She expected the diploma, but was surprised to learn that she's now an art collector.

Wahl's question came after the performance artist, who captivated commencement audiences with his motivational rapid-fire art, composed his portrait of Marilyn Monroe during the afternoon ceremony at GCU Arena.

An alleged risk-taker first emerged from the audience. The female graduate selected a note in an envelope and had the option of taking what appeared to be a "Fear Factor" like penalty, or pass the envelope to someone else. She passed it to Tyler, who opened it -- discovering a note that the Marilyn portrait was hers to keep. Now it's simply a matter of shipping it home to Newark.

Tyler said she served in Iraq and spent years serving in the Army. So her fear factor is under control.

"They teach us to take risks," said Tyler, who added that she was keeping the painting after learning that a similar Wahl piece fetched more than $10,000 in Los Angeles last week. 

"What's the worst thing that could happen?" Tyler asked. "Why would she give it up so easily?"

-- Michael Ferraresi

Parking Crew Aces Its Final Exam

Grads and guests alike were raving about the work done by the crew of Vice President of Campus Operations Steve Soukup in getting them parked and into GCU Arena for commencement on Thursday and Friday.

The parking team also was tasked with getting employees to and from a satellite lot on 27th Avenue, less than a mile from campus.

"I'm sitting down and doing nothing for about the next eight minutes," Soukup said late Friday afternoon, "and that's as good as it gets."

The team included Michael Ledbetter, who oversaw the employee shuttle service; Tonja Smith, who rented the shuttle vans and golf carts; Andy Schmailzl, who directed the west-campus parking crew; and Kris Fairey, who was in charge of the east-side team. More than 20 student workers were involved, and the Sodexo food service management team even drove carts both days.

The biggest challenge, Soukup said, was in getting visitors directed to the northern reaches of campus parking.

"I'd love to take credit, but I couldn't have done half of this without these people," Soukup said of his crew. "Everyone pulled hard on this deal."

A bit of an assist came Friday when overflow crowds expected for GCU's largest colleges -- Nursing and Education -- didn't materialize. The morning session was nearly full inside the Arena, the afternoon less so. 

-- Doug Carroll

The Amazing Work of Erik Wahl

After Tragedy, Working to Bring Change

The Gabrielle Giffords shootings in Tucson were the source of much heartache for Angela Robinson, who lost her father, Dorwan Stoddard, in the tragedy.

However, out of Robinson's grief has come her steely resolve to do something positive. As the president-elect of the Arizona School Counselors Association, her big issue will be to require counselors in the state's K-12 schools.

She thinks she can get it done in three years. 

"I know that's what we need," said Robinson, 58, who receives her master's degree in educational administration today from GCU.

"If kids have too many issues, they're not going to learn. They come loaded with a lot of baggage. When you don't have a counselor, who picks them up? ... Counselors are the connection. We know the whole child."

Robinson, a longtime counselor who works in the Pima County schools, said counselors can head off trouble that may not manifest itself until years later.

Of Jared Lee Loughner, the suspect in the Tucson shootings, she said: "He didn't just all of a sudden become this person. There were warning signs. There's never a complete surprise."

Robinson said she'd like to teach an online master's program for school counselors for GCU.

"I've got the whole background," she said. "That's been my life."

-- Doug Carroll

All Aboard the New Life Singers Express

For GCU's New Life Singers, the four performances leading up to each of the commencement ceremonies Thursday and Friday were just the warm-up act.

Following their performance for the Friday afternoon graduation, within the hour the 20 students were on board a bus that will take them to Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas for a 14-day tour that will include 22 performances.

"We're used to it," sophomore Abby Harper said of the hectic schedule. "It's going to be emotional toward the end because only six of us are coming back. Everyone else is a senior.

"It was fantastic (last year). It was exhausting. Just to hang out with everybody and see the diversity in the churches we go to was interesting."

Graduating senior Julianne Forte said it will be exciting to be with her fellow students one last time, but after that, "I'm looking forward to some rest."

The first performance is Saturday in Littleton, Colo., followed by four performances at churches on Sunday.

It's not all hustling and bustling, however. The group will take a white-water rafting trip on Monday; and on Tuesday night New Life senior Bonita Baldwin promised that "Mama B is cooking up some of her famous fried chicken." The following Sunday is spent at the home of New Life Singers director Gabe Salazar's aunt for a barbecue.

The group returns to GCU May 18, but the hectic schedule doesn't end there for Salazar, who two days later is off on a mission to Africa with a different group of students.

-- Bob Romantic

Tucson Teacher's Heart Remains in Education

Don Ochoa caught the teaching bug in Japan and South Korea, where he tutored elementary school students in English.

But budget cuts at his international program landed him back in the States, where he wound up working as a manager at Black Angus and Village Inn restaurants. Never mind his bachelor’s degree in Japanese. His heart remained in teaching, though – so he went after a graduate degree in elementary education through GCU.

The curriculum changed his life. He earned his first full-time teaching gig at a Green Valley, Ariz. charter school, where he’ll lead a fourth grade class this fall. He and his wife, Mieko, are also building a home in the Tucson area. So everything seems to be accelerating around commencement.

“It was really rigorous. I didn’t think it would be as hard as it was,” said Ochoa, one of hundreds of GCU College of Education graduates who received diplomas during Friday afternoon’s ceremony.

“Over the course of your career, it’s a real worthy investment,” Ochoa said. “When I started working with kids I felt like I was doing something worthwhile.”

Ochoa, 35, said GCU’s curriculum was flexible. He took classes online from his home in the Tucson area and took student-teaching assignments at schools in the same area.

-- Michael Ferraresi

God's Voice Leads Hospice Nurse to Commencement

Two months before she was diagnosed with lung cancer, Yola Schuldes said she had a dream in which God revealed to her that she would be sick. But the Lord told her she would survive.

He apparently had other plans for her.

Schuldes, a hospice nurse who graduated from GCU on Friday with her bachelor's in nursing, said she felt the dream led her to GCU. After the surgeries, medications and the lengthy recovery -- Schuldes said she realized her place was not at the bedside of a hospice patient.  

"After going through that, I realized I wanted to help people live," said Schuldes, 62, who served 27 years in the Army and Army Reserves.

Schuldes completed the BSN program with a 3.9 GPA, mindful of her mantra ("To touch the human spirit is to heal the human soul") all the way to Friday's finish line. She felt that her education at GCU prepared her to help people heal "from the inside-out," meaning by mending the soul so the body may grow stronger.

After graduation, Schuldes said her hope is to work with U.S. veterans or cancer patients.

"I wanted to show my daughter, if I can do it, anybody can do it," she said.  

-- Michael Ferraresi

Nursing Dean Applauds RN, MSN graduates

As several hundred of her nursing students took their seats in GCU Arena, Dr. Anne McNamara paused and savored the moment. 

GCU's dean for the College of Nursing said she enjoyed the morning of greeting graduates, sharing school memories and well-wishes before the busy Friday commencement ceremony got underway at 10 a.m.

McNamara oversees one of GCU’s longest-running and most successful academic tracts. The College of Nursing holds several hundred traditional pre-licensure BSN students, in addition to more than 4,000 students going for RN-BSN and MSN degrees.

GCU works in partnership with Arizona hospitals, health-care organizations, community health programs and other fields to help place students on their career path.

“For nurses, this is such an important day,” McNamara said about the commencement ceremony. “You get your RN and your career takes off.”

For nursing master’s students, the higher degree is perhaps even more reason to celebrate.

“In nursing, this means promotions and job opportunities,” McNamara said.

-- Michael Ferraresi 

Nursing Graduate Completes 40-Year Journey

Better be ready to hug Jeune Jackson-Hozumi.

"I don't do handshakes," she said the other day while meeting a stranger on the GCU campus.

And get the age right, will you? She's not 75 -- not yet.

"Don't inch me up," she said.

Jackson-Hozumi, who is 74, finishes today what she started all the way back in 1972, when she received a two-year degree in nursing from Los Angeles City College. She gets her bachelor's degree in nursing from GCU.

In those interim 40 years, she has done plenty. She lived overseas for a time. She said she earned an advanced degree in health-care administration in 1989 and a doctorate in law in 1992, and for the past 16 years she has been director of quality management for Cedars-Sinai Medical Delivery Network in Beverly Hills, Calif.

She needed just two online courses to complete the nursing bachelor's, and she said she found out about GCU on "I saw the logo with the cross on the hill and knew it was the right place," she said.

Jackson-Hozumi, originally from New York City, said she dropped out of high school at the age of 16 but made a promise to her mother that "I'd make a difference."

Next up: work on a master's in nursing. She said she hopes to start by the end of the month.

"Nursing is not work," she said. "It's a profession you commit to. Once you do that, you owe it. ... If not nurses, then who?"

-- Doug Carroll

A Personal Touch

Wondering how the graduates' names appear on the big screen at Grand Canyon University Arena as they walk across the stage to accept their diploma? We were, too.

Each graduate is given a card when they register at the Arena on graduation day. That card includes their identification information, a bar code and a place for them to phonetically spell out their name. On the stage, Keith Baker and Drea Gardelius alternately accept the cards from each graduate, announce their name and swipe the card into a reader at the podium.

And, presto, the student's name appears overhead as he or she walks across the stage to accept the diploma.

It's a nice touch that helps personalize a big moment.

-- Bob Romantic


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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

David said to Michal, "It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when He appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel — I will celebrate before the Lord. (2 Samuel 6:21)

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