From town to town, Lopes donned cap and gown

Vincent Clapper and his parents celebrated his graduation from GCU with a dinner via social distancing in the empty parking lot near Texas Roadhouse in Sioux Falls, S.D. He anticipates starting his job with Oracle in Austin, Texas, in June.

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

Vincent Clapper wasn’t about to let his graduation day go by without fanfare.

So he and his mom, Cathi, concocted this idea.

Vince, who graduated this weekend from Grand Canyon University with his bachelor’s degree in Marketing, landed a job with Oracle in Austin, Texas (the Honors College student sharpened his business chops previously as a Red Bull student brand manager).

So he and Cathi thought they would do a sort-of tribute-to-Texas-themed graduation celebration.

They loaded up a table, chairs and white tablecloth into the family minivan – it took some doing – hit the road to Texas Roadhouse in their hometown of Sioux Falls, S.D., and ordered some food for pickup (the thing to do in the COVID-19 era). They then drove to the empty parking lot next door and unloaded the table, chairs and white tablecloth to partake of the feast al fresco, with Texas Roadhouse as a backdrop and tribute to his future.

Vince dressed in his sister’s old cap and gown – and donned a purple GCU pennant for good measure. His dad, Jeff, an attorney, also joined them for his graduation dinner.

It made for the perfect social media photograph: social distancing, family togetherness, coronavirus graduate. A nod to the future.

A picture truly does say a thousand words.

“People who were in their cars next door were saying, ‘Congratulations!’ I got a free dessert. People who were driving by honked,” said Vince, still amazed by how his family – and community -- celebrated him, even during a pandemic that forced the postponement of commencement ceremonies around the world, including GCU’s.

Not to be outdone, the staff at Texas Roadhouse wheeled out their “birthday saddle,” on which birthday guests are invited to sit while the staff sings enthusiastically to them. Social distancing was observed, of course.

Despite all the effort to move practically an entire dining room outside, Vince said, “it was worth the effort.”

Vince and his parents weren’t the only ones to find a unique way to celebrate graduation from a distance.

One woman wrote on her Instagram how her family was celebrating their graduate with a parade. Family and friends parked along the street to cheer for the graduate, who was driven, in cap and gown, past the spectators. He waved through the sunroof.

Other family members placed their graduates’ regalia on the front lawn or put out yard signs congratulating their seniors on completing their degrees.

Then there's GCU Christian ministries graduate Caleb Smith, who's sheltering at home in Mesa. His mom, Wendy, posted a hilarious video of their family's COVID-19, do-it-yourself graduation a la quarantine from home.

Caleb is pictured in cap and gown stepping over the threshold (through the front door) and into the house, where his mom hugs him, and his dad, Brian, and his brother's dog shake his hand before he is greeting "dignitaries" who are wearing throw blankets as capes. One holds a sign that says #AboutTime2020. The other, with a pillow balanced on his head like a graduation cap mortar board, shakes his hand and sprays him down with disinfectant.

"Caleb and his wife had a plan of doing a Zoom party, so we decorated our front yard and were just planning on having a dinner and getting on a Zoom call. So everyone was kind of like, 'Did you ever get your cap and gown?' He dug out his high school cap and gown, then everyone just kind of improvised, ‘Oh, let’s do a ceremony,'" said Wendy. "His younger brother filmed it, his brother’s dog got involved. It just so happened the Lysol can was purple."

While the family was sad NOT to embrace their graduate with a big pomp-and-circumstance ceremony, "Caleb said, 'I wouldn’t want this any other way.' Being with family is the best. We didn’t have trouble with parking or getting graduation tickets or anything like that. ... And it's something he can tell his kids -- I graduated when COVID came and disrupted everything."

The Honors College has honored its students with a video address from Associate Dean Breanna Naegeli, a senior spotlight campaign and a gift in their email -- a virtual photo booth experience so graduates could take animated graduation pictures with a GCU Honors College backdrop.

Adrienne Crawford celebrated her environmental science graduates with a virtual Zoom ceremony.

GCU’s Adrienne Crawford, who teaches biology, ecology and environmental science in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology, has grown close to many of the seniors in the programs she teaches during their three or four years at the University.

“The thought of them NOT having a ceremony broke my heart,” she said of her senior students, who had purchased all their regalia and were disappointed they wouldn't be able to walk across the stage at GCU Arena as planned (though a fall Commencement is in the works).

Almost as soon as it was announced that classes were no longer going to be face-to-face and were moving online, Crawford started formulating an idea of how she would honor her graduating seniors: She would host a distance graduation on virtual meeting platform Zoom.

She sent invitations, pulled up old Commencement ceremony footage that showed a processional and even arranged for a keynote speaker, Dr. Randhir Deo, faculty lead of GCU’s Environmental Science Program. He spoke to the graduates about being responsible with their degree and using their knowledge to benefit mankind.

He conveyed to students the importance of the journey over the destination and the importance of looking back. We don’t always know how the dots are connected in life, but they are, he said, and you can’t know how they’re connected by looking forward, only by looking back.

He also asked them to express their gratitude to those who have helped them along the way. “There are a lot of individuals that liked you and that are behind you and that want you to be successful.”

One of the graduates, Tatiana Sarracino, did indeed show her gratitude during the Zoom graduation: “It takes an army (to make a person),” she said. “It’s not just my grandparents and my mom, it’s not just my parents, it’s an army.”

Seven seniors in the small but burgeoning Environmental Science Program were able to attend, and more than 30 others logged into the online meeting, including the students’ family and friends.

“They worked so hard for this one special moment,” Crawford said.

Jazzelle Ramirez, who received her Bachelor's Degree in Accounting, wrote on her Instagram (@jazelledrums) that although she was sad her senior year ended so abruptly, she was happy to have attended her "dream college."

"We were supposed to be united today, graduating together and experiencing a memorable moment in life," she said of what was supposed to be Commencement on Friday. "We’ve worked extremely hard and invested so much money these last couple of years, but it’s definitely paid off.

"I’m here to remind you that the Lord is still faithful and worthy of everything. I’m so proud to be a witness by seeing you make a great impact in a way that goes a lot further than a semester ended early. Now, use your degree and all the knowledge you’ve received to unlock doors for others humbly, by serving at a different level. May you continue being a blessing unto others and be led by the Spirit, purposely guiding you for such a time like this."

The celebrations will continue, of course.

GCU’s Commencement for traditional, on-ground students on Friday was to be followed by two days of ceremonies April 30 and May 1 for nontraditional students. So those students, too, will find their own ways to celebrate.

GCU’s social media team on Wednesday launched a more-than-weeklong celebration of the University’s graduates with video addresses by students, Pastor and Dean of Students Dr. Tim Griffin and Provost Dr. Hank Radda. Along with the video team, they are compiling submissions for a video that will highlight how students celebrated.

Until then, here are some other ways students commemorated their graduation day, seen by their posts on social media:


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GCU Magazine

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May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

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