Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau
Mary Campbell is starting college at the same time as three of her cousins, and their parents have been flooding social media the last few days with photos and videos of dropping off their kids at school.
Now her father, Richard, has something with a bit more energy to share.
When he dropped off Mary at Grand Canyon University early Monday morning on the first day of Move-In, they were greeted by hundreds of screaming, waving, chanting, dancing, Lopes-Upping student volunteers eager to carry her belongings to her room – so many of them that it’s hard to fit a vehicle between the crowds on either side.
Just like that, parents who arose in the middle of the night go from bleary-eyed to cheery-eyed, and their smiles shine through their windshields as brightly as the rising sun behind them. Richard Campbell, who got a video of the whole crazy thing, can’t wait to share it with his relatives.
“Nobody had this,” he said. “They should hide their pictures.”
And even though GCU hasn’t made a secret of what’s in store for an incoming student who’s going to live on campus, there still are parents who are shocked that so many young people are willing to get up before dawn just to serve. But it fits right in with the campus culture.
“It’s become a branded GCU experience,” GCU President Brian Mueller said as car horns blared and volunteers cheered nearby. “At a lot of universities, the fraternities and sororities have huge histories, and some very good things happen out of that. But we don’t do hazing here. We welcome people here.
“The students that experience this themselves, they really are determined that other students experience that same thing, which is interesting and very exciting. The volunteers just keep growing. They show up almost a week early. They get moved in and then they get ready to have this big five days. It’s a great way to start the year.”
Everyone is so eager to get it going, it keeps starting earlier every year. Monday, about 10 cars were in line at 4 a.m, but an hour later so many were lined up they had to be waved onto campus to avoid a backup. When it was time to get everyone moving, the family in one car had to be awakened – they all had fallen asleep.
The first cars started being unloaded at 6 a.m., a half-hour ahead of schedule. Made sense, given that the volunteers already were in place – and so were the arriving families.
“Never happens,” said Charity Norman, Director of Welcome Programs. “Earliest I’ve ever seen it, by far.”
One of those first arrivals was the Winghams, who made the short drive from their Glendale home, got to campus at 3 a.m. and were second in line. It also meant that daughter Paris’ room was settled long before other cars were unloaded, but the pre-med student already felt well-connected, thanks to GCU’s policy of arranging a group chat with her new roommates last spring.
The Move-In experience only added to those feelings.
“It was really pretty exciting,” her mother, Shannon, said. “Everyone was cheering and so friendly and helpful. It feels like a community already.”
Eric Wingham, like so many parents, was taking multiple videos of all the activity. He enjoys creating videos out of family vacations, and this experience rivals any road trip.
“It was something I’ll never forget,” he said.
It’s so unforgettable, it should be easy to forgive an exuberant sister from getting caught up in the spirit.
Bruce and Rebecca Hardison left their home in Acampo, Calif., near Lodi, early Sunday morning, stayed at a campground overnight and completed the journey Monday morning. But when they pulled up to Juniper Hall, daughter Morgan was aghast that the student volunteers were chanting her name – written on the windshield of their car.
So her sister Meagan, a GCU online student, did what any big sis would do: She started chanting Morgan’s name, too.
“Everyone’s really nice. Everyone is very, very welcoming,” Morgan said.
GCU’s rapid growth – another 7,500 incoming students this year, bringing the ground campus total to 22,000 along with more than 80,000 online – hasn’t taken away from the Move-In feeling.
There was the usual volunteer dancing Monday morning, and it can safely be reported that there’s nothing quite like watching everyone on the south side of Juniper move back and forth to DJ Casper’s “Cha Cha Slide” at the crack of dawn. But that strength in numbers is right in step with the GCU story.
Mueller noted that the numbers of high school graduates and college students are dropping nationwide, which has had a negative effect on some universities. “And we just keep going up,” he said. “We have figured out a way to make private Christian higher education affordable to all socioeconomic classes of Americans.”
It has been accomplished in several ways, he added: by freezing tuition for 11 years, by having facilities that consistently are ranked among the best in the country, by being in a destination city and by having strong academic programs that lead to good jobs.
“When you combine the culture, the welcoming atmosphere, the care and the concern, the outreach into the community, those are all things that make this thing very attractive to students,” he said.
And to parents.
Ben Yablonski was one of the dads who were honking and waving as they drove in Monday morning. (Maybe they're honking just because they're so happy they don't have to carry the refrigerator upstairs.) It was as if he couldn’t get enough of the atmosphere even though he got up at 2 a.m. at his home in Yuma to drive daughter Kelsey to her first day of college. They arrived at 5:30.
Ben knows the area – he attended nearby Universal Technical Institute. But that made him that much more stunned when he saw Move-In.
“This is not what I pictured when she said she’s going to go to school at 35th and Camelback,” he said. “This is absolutely amazing.”
And then he gave the whole experience the blessing that makes Move-In worth every precious moment:
“I’m glad she’s here.”
Maybe next year she’ll be on the volunteer crew, welcoming a new set of parents who won’t believe what they’re seeing. That’s how Move-In goes full circle – and goes viral, too. Nobody has this.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].
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