Doctoral chair's talk inspires mother/son grad pair

Dr. Beth Graefe and her son Jake both completed their degree programs at GCU this spring.

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

“Even a worldwide virus causing schools, states and countries to shut down will not prevail against you because God has big plans for you and through Him all things are possible, including a meaningful and memorable college graduation ceremony.”

Dr. JoAnn Foley Markette called in via Zoom to give a virtual commencement speech.

Those were Dr. JoAnn Foley Markette's closing words for Jake Graefe during her talk at his impromptu Grand Canyon University graduation ceremony, which Graefe and his family watched in their living room in Parker, Colo.

Markette had chaired the dissertation committee of Jake’s mother, Dr. Beth Graefe, who successfully defended her dissertation four days before the ceremony to her GCU degree: Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Health Care Administration.

The event brought together a small group of family and friends in person and online and was emceed by Jake’s father, Kevin, and uncle Carl. The pair carried out the event as one would for a tradition commencement ceremony, including an opening prayer, words of encouragement from family members and Markette, and a few jokes thrown in for good measure.

Jake graduated with an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering.

The video can be viewed here.

The goal was to give Jake as memorable a ceremony as possible after traditional Spring Commencement ceremonies were postponed because of the pandemic. When the idea of a commencement speaker came up, Beth reached out to Markette.

“She knew me but she didn’t know Jake, but she got to know him and just said such beautiful things,” Beth said. “It just made it feel real, that transition from undergrad life to adulthood because she was able to do that. She was in her cap and gown … it was awesome.”

Jake was introduced to the University on a Discover GCU trip four years ago. He knew right away that he had found his home away from home.

Dr. Beth Graefe completed her Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Health Care Administration program from GCU.

“He just fell in love with the campus and the culture and the people and didn’t really even need to apply anywhere else,” Beth said. “That was where his calling was.”

Six months after Jake started classes toward his degree in Mechanical Engineering, Beth decided to enroll in the College of Doctoral Studies.

“We just feel in love the philosophy of GCU, the ability to keep tuition reasonable, the ease with which we could do online studies while there still were some on-campus opportunities as well through the cohorts,” she said. “One of the things I loved most about the program is that these professors would pray for us and with us and we would openly talk about in our discussion questions the love of the Lord.

“My faith was definitely deepened through the experience.”

The pair would catch up when Beth came to campus for her doctoral residencies.

Jake created friends-for-life relationships while living in the residence halls on campus and also got to visit with his mother when she came to campus for residencies.

“It was cool to know that my mom was at GCU with me,” he said. “I was a great experience. It was an awesome four years at GCU.

“It was definitely a journey with a lot of hard work, for sure. All of the classes were difficult, but it was well worth it.”

Mom and son originally weren’t scheduled to finish their programs at the same time, but Beth finished her dissertation early.

When GCU’s ground classes transitioned to the online platform because of COVID-19 and students were encouraged to return home for the remainder of the spring semester, it was a strange time for Jake.

“It was definitely interesting saying goodbye to everybody early,” he said.

With Jake's father, Kevin (left), as one of the emcees, the Graefes celebrated the graduates at the family's home in Colorado.

But at least he still got a commencement ceremony, surrounded by family. There were some benefits to the unexpected turn of events.

“We were able to invite some family over, we had our social distancing for sure, but we had some family members, grandparents over, some that probably weren’t going to be able to come to the ceremony,” he said. “It was definitely a sense of emotion, having everyone there and being able to celebrate together.”

Though the home commencement ceremony mainly focused on Jake’s completion of his undergraduate degree, Markette recognized Beth’s accomplishment as well. 

“I got teary eyed because Dr. Markette said such beautiful things,” Beth said. “She was able to speak words from the Bible to lift Jake up, and there are just so few places that can do that in a university setting. It was just really special."

Jake isn't sure whether he'll be attend Commencement when it is rescheduled, but for a positive reason: Weeks after his impromptu ceremony, he began as a mechanical engineer at Sierra Nevada Corporation, an aerospace engineering company.

Beth hopes to be able to attend a future commencement to finally meet Markette in person and thank her for all she did for her.

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]


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