GCU puts a Face(book) to scholarship winners

https://www.facebook.com/GrandCanyonU/videos/2864293306999182/

By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau

The pandemic couldn’t stop a revered Grand Canyon University celebration.

“Our country is struggling, the world is struggling, but we keep moving. We find ways to be grateful, we find ways to celebrate, and this is a night of celebration,” GCU President Brian Mueller said to open the Students Inspiring Students Reception.

Students Bliss Casteel (left) and Manuel Espinoza served as hosts for the Students Inspiring Students Reception.

The Tuesday evening event shifted from a banquet hall to Facebook, where a nearly 20-minute program streamed to honor current, new and newly graduated SIS scholars. The SIS reception was the heartfelt brainchild of SIS Program Manager Megan Serafini.

“Megan did all this. She had the vision to continue the banquet and make it happen,” said Dr. Joe Veres, Vice President for Student Success. “She really wanted this to continue.”

Serafini launched the idea of the virtual celebration in March after students left campus to continue their education remotely because of the national spread of COVID-19.

SIS Program Manager Megan Serafini

“I didn’t want these students not to get a celebration. They worked as hard as any in the past, and I wanted them to feel special,” she said. “I wanted to showcase these students and how they are better than their circumstances.”

SIS students have become a shining example of the spirit and resilience nurtured at GCU. Fifty new full-tuition, four-year scholarships were awarded during the 2019-20 academic year to neighborhood students who have demonstrated financial need and have attained high marks while utilizing after-school instruction at GCU’s Learning Lounge.

“Many of you didn’t know if you would have a chance to go to college,” Mueller said. “Yet in high school you persevered. You didn’t just persevere, you excelled. You earned greater than a 4.0 (grade point average) not knowing if you’d get a chance to go to college. Congratulations, you earned this. We can’t wait to see what you do at Grand Canyon over the next four years.”

They join a growing list of hundreds of current SIS students who pay it forward by assisting others in the Learning Lounge. The first four-year SIS graduates of the program just completed their studies. 

After a list of graduates appeared on screen, Juan Ciscomani gave a keynote address that emphasized his own life story. The Senior Advisor for Regional and International Affairs for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said he hadn’t given college much of a thought until his high school guidance counselor in Tucson offered to pay for a semester at Pima Community College, “and the rest would be up to me.”

Juan Ciscomani, who works in Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey's office, offered his advice and congratulations.

“That changed my perspective completely. Someone beside my parents believed in me. Now it was up to me to make the best of that,” he said.

“A valuable lesson I learned is to pay it forward. … You have the ability to give back, so please value that and don’t forget to do it.”

The students were the stars during the rest of the program. Hosts Bliss Casteel and Manuel Espinoza are current students and SIS recipients. So was recently graduated Tahj Coney, who spent months filming footage on campus and conducting interviews for a nine-minute video that was part of the presentation.

“The main thing I wanted to capture was the environment at GCU. I wanted (new recipients) to see what GCU is,” said Coney, who graduated with a degree in visual design. “I wanted them to feel comfortable and excited. You are going to college and don’t know what will happen, but it’s a great experience.

“To have other people tell their story was very powerful, even for me.”

SIS students shared their favorite parts of college life and their experiences at GCU. Recent SIS graduate Jazmin Miguel said her favorite is the ceremony when new recipients are announced each year.

Recent SIS graduate Jazmin Miguel recounted the emotional moment when scholarships are awarded.

“When I attend the ceremonies, I know I am stepping into a room of students who have defeated the odds,” she said. “Seeing them with their families and hearing their testimony is very, very inspiring.”

The new recipients’ reactions to landing a scholarship, announced and captured via Zoom earlier this month, ended the program with that same emotion.

Ana Tinoco said her parents’ education was limited, but they always found a way to better their children’s lives: “If they can do it why can’t I? Why can’t I pay back what they have done for me?”

The online reception was tough to pull off on short notice, Serafini said, but soon afterward her inbox was filled with dozens of thank-you emails from students.

Among them was one from Tinoco:

"Thank you so much for taking the time and making the video and celebrating with all of us in these hard times. The video was amazing, and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity you have given us."

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

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Bible Verse

Be not afraid, O land (of Judah); be glad and rejoice. Surely the Lord has done great things. (Joel 2:21)

To Read More: www.verseoftheday.com/