Experiencing the sights, sounds of Welcome Week

GCU's Robyn Hord tells parents about the ABCs of parenting a college student and told her own story. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau

Welcome Week is a lot of laughs — socials and danceable music, food and free stuff. There also are goodbye tears and heartfelt stories. Here’s what we saw and heard on the Grand Canyon University campus Monday, the first day of Welcome Week, that showed we are all in this together, at last.


Robyn Hord’s message about her own family led to the loudest applause in GCU Arena during the Parent and Family Orientation Monday morning.

The Parent and Family Programs Coordinator urged parents to be light on their feet, being there for their student but not annoying or controlling, before reminding parents of boys that, no, they’re probably not going to call.

Then she talked about her son Ryan, a student at GCU. Last year was difficult for him, as it was for many. “This was a hard time for our kiddos mentally,” she told the group.

It got so difficult that Ryan had thoughts of harming himself, watching online videos on how to do it.

“The pandemic was hard on him,” Hord said later.

She has worked for parents and students for years to help get through those times with prayer and care, urging them to join the 70 prayer groups for GCU parents across the country. Now it hit home.

After getting Ryan into the hospital for treatment, she reached out to those groups. There was an outpouring of prayer, and eight days later Ryan left the hospital.

“Now we’re getting to celebrate,” she said.

On Monday, with her voice cracking with emotion, Hord said this to parents and students:

“My sweet boy is coming back to classes next week.”

And those parents let loose a loud cheer.


Freshman Clima Choun takes a selfie with her parents, Evelyne and Phil.

There is a sweetness to the days of Welcome Week, parents trudging on the heels of their young adult children, bags in hands, a bit wide-eyed and often sentimental.

But their students feel it, too.

Freshman Cilma Choun was busy taking photographs of every possible setting and angle with her parents, Evelyne and Phil.

“I took 20 photos, just from the parking lot to here,” she said, standing under the big neon welcome sign at the GCU Arena entrance.

She was asked why and explained that she is the first child to move away to a college campus. “I’m from Hawaii and I won’t see them for a while,” Choun said.

The selfie she took shows all that love before her parents have to fly home.


Move-In energy is not an accident. A significant boost is provided by the 40 portable speakers placed outdoors all around campus, pumping out tunes perfect to sing and dance to.

Joel Henderson, the audio and video supervisor for Event Services, said there are hundreds of feet of cable hooked up to the speakers on stands, and those too far away for a plug-in are hooked up to generators.

The Havocs booth was a popular venue in front of the Student Union. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

Henderson was out early Monday walking around, seeing the smiling faces of students singing. “It sets the mood for Move-In and Welcome Week,” he said.

Each has volume controls and is hooked up to receive the signal from KSLX 100.7 FM, which plays the pre-selected Welcome Week channel throughout the week, complete with songs and messages. The sound can easily be heard from 50 feet away, Henderson said, “but I’m being conservative.”

The star of the playlist is Alden Sia, Welcome Week Coordinator. She leads a team of curators who pick the songs. She said they ask staff for recommendations and turn to students on Instagram to get the right mix.

They must be songs that make you want to sing and dance, she said. Sing (“Dancing Queen”) and dance (“Happy”) and sing (“Walk the Moon”) and dance (“Titanium”).

“Because it’s hot we are going to keep them excited with music,” Sia said.

Beyonce is always popular and the classics, such as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” but this year she added a bit more current pop hits by the bands Surfaces, Camino and Chelsea Cutler – and added some Jonas Brothers because of a resurgence. The three playlists each feature four hours of music.

And, yes, she looks up the lyrics to make sure they send the right message.

And the message seems to be: “Shut up and dance with me.”


The line typically went out the door of Chick-fil-A on Monday.

In obvious news of the day: Chick-fil-A is the most popular of the 31 dining and convenience venues on campus during Welcome Week, say GCU Dining officials. Qdoba and Panda Express both come in a distant second.

“I help run the social media account for GCU Dining, and a lot of students were most excited about Chick-fil-A because they don’t have it in their home state or country,” said Jessica Maichel, marketing supervisor for GCU Dining/Sodexo.

Wait, there are places without Chick-fil-A?

The door was mostly open throughout the middle of the day as the line stretched out the door on Lopes Way. Parent Mely Avila just polished off a Chick-fil-A meal, made the outrageous comment that it was just OK and she didn’t like the sauce, but said her freshman daughter Stephanie always wants to eat there.

She came to GCU because of the Christian emphasis and her cousin goes here, but does Chick-fil-A count as the third reason?

“For her,” said mom, “yes.”


The early popularity of this shirt still couldn't better the old-fashioned sweatshirt in sales.

The other crowded venue on Monday, other than the line to get really cool free gear at the Havocs pop-up tent outside the Student Union, was the Lope Shop.

Here’s where we have surprises. We were marched right over to a pile of very thick GCU sweatshirts.

“It’s 122 degrees. I don’t get it,” said Shelley Schrimpf, Assistant Director of Campus Retail and Licensing.

But it’s the classic college go-to with collegiate lettering: a sweatshirt for those early morning classes when the desert cools off at night, which we hope happens someday.

The next big seller is a more recent trend: lifestyle graphics of surf (“Though we aren’t by an ocean,” Schrimpf said), camping, hiking and other active pursuits.

And in the first two hours there was another surprise among the average of $11,000 worth of goods sold per hour. A T-shirt with the gold rays of a blazing sun over Grand Canyon University, which is way more fitting during triple-digit temps than a sweatshirt.

Water bottles

Hydration should be a senior-level course. It’s that vital in the heat. Student Camden Marasco said there will be 80,000 bottles of waters issued. He's the sustainability director for Associated Students of GCU, and the heat meant swinging into action.

He’s leading the push for recycling all those bottles, as well as the moving boxes, at the 11 large recycling receptacles on campus as well as the smaller ones for bottles.

To make it even more clear, he’s leading a noon scavenger hunt Tuesday, the prize find being succulent plants perfect for apartments, placed so the hunters are sure to know where all the recycling bins are located. It’s all part of his big plans for the year, which also include trying to work toward portable charging stations run on solar.

New buildings

There’s more new here than the apartment complex called The Rivers. There’s the old turned new. Just off Camelback and 31st Avenue are three classroom and office buildings, part of a former church property, that are refurbished and will open for classes next week, adding nearly 45,000 square feet of space.

There will be six classrooms, five study rooms, a lounge and offices for students who are veterans, international students and Event Services staff.

And, yes, some of the fresh paint job inside includes the color purple.

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


Related content:

GCU Today: Welcome Week is here, and the Move-In is easy

GCU Today: The Rivers arrives: ‘It’s so fresh and new in here’

GCU Today: Life leaders help students feel at home on campus


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