Emotions run deep at freshman orientation

A proud mother captures her husband pinning their son during the Welcome Session at Parent and Family Orientation.

Photos by Ralph Freso

You are not alone.

The message to new students at Monday’s Welcome Session in Parent and Family Orientation was clear as Grand Canyon University Arena was darkened and cellphone lights danced skyward when freshmen were asked to lift them if they were nervous.

The orientation was especially emotional for freshman Bruno Brambila and his father, Gerardo.

At the Arena’s far end, Bruno Brambila knew he was not alone. His parents had brought him to this moment.

So when Gerardo Brambila was asked to place a GCU pin on his son’s shirt to mark the moment of his bond with the GCU community, Bruno was casual in the way of a confident child taking a step away. He discussed the plan for meeting up after students were to separate into groups.

Gerardo clutched his son and held on in a hug that lasted for more than a minute.

“I love you with all my heart,” he said into his ear. “Now let’s do this.”

Bruno merged into a crowd of students filing out of the Arena as his father watched him go.

Chase Feist from Nebraska was one of the freshmen who raised their cellphone flashlights to indicate they were nervous.

“It means a lot for him to come to university,” Gerardo said. “It’s a great achievement because Bruno is autistic. He was diagnosed at 2 years old. He went from no eye contact, no talking, no eating, to a guy who is very smart.”

The Rev. Gerardo Brambila of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Mesa was asked how that happened.

“We spent seven years of our life, my wife and I, working with him and doing therapy, day and night. We don’t watch movies, we don’t have parties or go out. We work and do three, four hours of therapy every day.

“He graduates and comes to Grand Canyon with a 3.9 GPA. With the Lord, he will achieve what he wants.”

Brambila’s ancestors came from Italy to Mexico, where both he and wife Viviana were born. They moved to the U.S. and raised children. His wife stayed at home in Mesa with their younger daughter on Monday but planned to visit the campus this week.

“I want her to feel the way I feel today,” he said. “It means a lot. I have cried today.”

GCU President Brian Mueller applauds the new students.
Incoming GCU freshman Ellie Dinkelman (right) of Wisconsin hugs her mother, Nicole, after receiving her GCU pin ...

They listened as GCU President Brian Mueller told the packed Arena of GCU’s remarkable story of growth, from a University that a generation ago had 900 students to today welcoming 9,700 new students to a campus of more than 25,000. They had heard him tell of GCU’s investment in housing rehabilitation, services and jobs in a neighboring community that was an underdog.

The more GCU blesses the community, the more God blesses us, Mueller told them.

They had listened to Dr. Tim Griffin, the University Pastor and Dean of Students, assure them that their child was now part of the GCU family and that they were not alone.

They listened to Parent and Family Programs Coordinator Robyn Hord tell them they have accomplished the ultimate task of any parent – to raise a child confident enough to leave.

When Bruno left the Arena, his father was asked what he hoped for his son.

“I want him to find his way to being in relationships, to find love,” he said.

... And then consoles her emotional father, Tim, as she prepares to depart the session and head off to her separate orientation.

It’s difficult for Bruno to grasp emotions and social situations, he continued. “He says, ‘Dad, this happened to me, and I don’t understand. You need to teach me.’ Those other students grasp things that he doesn’t. There are many things we don’t know how his brain works.

“But they are amazing. So I have pride, too.”

Bruno followed his fellow students to the shade of a tree behind the Theology Building, where they sat in a circle and shared their names. Bruno found GCU in his own research, he said, looking for the Valley’s best school for cybersecurity.

In the Arena, his father listened to what he called “common sense” advice on being the parent of a college student, the first time he has ever done this.

“We are all different,” Gerardo said afterward, fluently saying in Spanish what means, “Each head has its own world of thoughts.”

These are Bruno’s thoughts after returning to his father outside the Arena:

“A lot of feelings. A lot of expectations. A lot of places to eat,” he said, smiling.

“We were all similar, teenagers who have no clear ideas. But we start next week, and this ends in that moment.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764

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