Bingo! GCU offers a prized welcome to students

By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau

Freshmen wearing masks stood on white marks 6 feet apart on The Grove lawn. They were mostly strangers to each other who had endured a topsy-turvy six months. But, finally, they were at college.

The field lights were turned off on a perfect Saturday night for Welcome Fest on the Grand Canyon University campus, though the lawn still was illuminated. Freshmen clicked on their smartphone lights, listening to questions by Caleb Duarte, a recent GCU graduate and newly hired, enthusiastic voice of events.

Students rotated through "speed friending" to get to know each other.

He asked them how many were excited, and all the lighted phones glowed high above their heads as they lifted their devices.

He asked them how many missed their moms, and they lifted their phones high.

He asked them if they were nervous about making friends, and they lifted their phones high.

“Do you see the lights go up around you?” he asked them. “You are not alone.

“We are one Lope. We are one herd.”

It was one moment that said much about the community forming at a time when so many need it, albeit 6 feet apart. Students buzzed around several Welcome Fest events on campus, this one called Stage Connect.

Welcome Programs Coordinator Alden Sia said Welcome Fest was coordinated to give students an opportunity to engage with each other and campus life in a safe way. Students met in commuter orientation groups, gathered at the Canyon Activity Center (CAC) to learn about recreation programs and played sand volleyball with friends.

A new event was Stage Connect, where students played rounds of "speed friending." They rotated across the field at safe distances, more than 100 strong on each side of the stage, as Duarte asked them to converse with the person across from them about favorite movies, memories and hopes for college.

Students spread out on the Quad lawn to eat barbecue and play bingo during Welcome Fest. (Photo by Elizabeth Tinajero)

What did David Polson learn, having traveled among the farthest in this group to come to GCU, from Columbia, S.C.?

“I learned they all play volleyball,” Polson said. “I like volleyball.”

He looked around to the sparkling, energetic campus, all lit up, and it was a new day. So many were taking the first steps at finding their place.

“I love it here,” he said. “The people. The staff. It’s honestly a campus like no other. It’s just such a fun campus.”

The message from the stage was clear. Members of the Havocs student group urged them to get involved, to be part of the community. Student leaders urged them to prize their differences in a divisive time but celebrate unity.

“It doesn’t matter what your politics are,” Associated Students of Grand Canyon University Vice President Noah Logan told the crowd, “We are all God’s children.”

The future engineers and artists, nurses and teachers, had started their college life. Some were so excited about meeting new people they returned for the second session.

Welcome Fest was one of the first big events that tested the resolve of the campus to be safe during a pandemic. The masked students reserve their spots via cellphone. It was a way to manage the crowd size at entertainment venues such as Stage Connect, Welcome Back at the CAC and Barbecue Bingo.

Thunder led a parade of Spirit Programs through campus during Welcome Fest. (Photo by Elizabeth Tinajero)

They were urged to stay “One Lope Apart.” Signs reminded them to “Wash Your Hands Like Your Mother is Watching.”

“Wear a mask,” Duarte said. “It’s good for you, like peas and carrots.”

Two years ago, when Nick Serviss was a freshman, it was very different.

“We didn’t have to wear masks and stand 6 feet apart from each other. But it’s cool to see the community is still here, even after something like COVID has impacted us so much,” said the Resident Assistant, who was delighted to be back.

“It’s very different than the sheltered life we’ve been having, but obviously GCU has great protocols in place that allow us to be a campus.”

Members of the band marched across campus. Contests and pep rallies were held at the baseball clubhouse. Students spidered up the climbing wall at the CAC and asked questions at the tables of the Involvement Fair at the west end of Lopes Way.

Freshman Dominic Cox was asking questions at the eSports table and was told of the easy access to the gaming center, where he could continue to compete like he had in high school in California.

“I want to take the same passion and bring it here,” he said. “I like the (gaming) community. It’s always chill and somewhere to go unwind.”

On other parts of campus, as students walked in small groups, singing to fitting music, such as Flo Rida’s “My House” (“Welcome to my house”), they stopped to form a long line in front of a table that listed more than 70 student clubs.

Cheer team members were on hand to lend a little spirit. (Photo by Elizabeth Tinajero)

There’s even more interest this year, said Sarah Miller, a student director of clubs. Some large events are altered or are postponed, so they are starving for community involvement.

At the Barbecue Bingo in the Quad, the B14s and G59s rang out as students sat on spaced white circles on the turf, munching hot dogs and corn dogs.

“This is showing them that even though we are limited to a spray-painted circle on the ground that we are still a community,” said Kassidy Grammer, a sophomore who is part of the Canyon Activities Board, a student-run group that plans campus events such as the opening-weekend bingo.

She held a corn dog, of course, and laughed about the bit of corny, old-school fun.

“We are here to make their freshman year the best we can make it. Even if that’s playing bingo and eating corn dogs, then playing bingo and eating corn dogs is the answer.”

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

Related content:

GCU Today: Changes won’t take welcome out of Welcome Week

GCU Today: Get a jump on fall semester with GCU Magazine


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