At Grand Canyon University’s commencement, it’s not uncommon for classmates to see each other for the first time but to celebrate as if they’ve known each other for years.
Bonds form quickly online when busy people are pursuing a common goal, as Shelley Lynch of Boston, Mass., and Jessie Chua of Phoenix, Ariz., discovered. The women embraced like old friends before receiving master’s degrees in nursing education on Saturday, May 1, at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix.
GCU awarded nearly 6,000 degrees to graduate and undergraduate students in both online and ground-campus programs in Nursing and Health Sciences, Education, Business and Liberal Arts. The University also presented an honorary doctorate in business management to former Southwest Airlines President Colleen C. Barrett.
This year, Lynch and Chua were part of a practicum class of 18 led by College of Nursing Associate Professor Pat Shannon that also included students from New Hampshire, Florida, Texas and Utah.
Lynch works in the intensive-care unit at two hospitals in the Boston area, and Chua is a pediatric nurse at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. They connected over their passion for research.
“I found friendship here,” Lynch said of her classmates. “You get to know people online and you learn their personalities.”
Another member of Shannon’s class, Amy Prichard of Mesa, Ariz., a nursing supervisor at Phoenix Children’s, compared the online experience to cracking open a novel.
“When you read a book, you develop an idea of what the characters might look like,” she said. “Then the book turns into a movie, and you see things visually. Our graduation is like the movie version of the book.”
Shannon calls online coursework “an adult way of learning,” acknowledging that it requires motivation and discipline.
Though pressed for time by work and family responsibilities, those qualities are exactly what career people have in large supply.
“I’m not sure I could do this online,” said Lynch’s husband, Chad, who is studying for his master’s in business administration at the University of Massachusetts and accompanied his wife to Arizona. “I saw the effort it took her.”
The effort included four weeks in Jamaica, where Lynch set up a health-education program for women and logged on faithfully with reports from the field. For Vicki Lucas and Sauna Olsen, both of Ephraim, Utah, who have 10 children and even more grandchildren between them, the work couldn’t have been done without extraordinary family support.
“Our families got this degree with us,” Olsen said. “My son taught me to do PowerPoint, and Vicki’s husband is an engineer who helped with our statistics class.”
Said Lucas: “There were huge sacrifices in the family department. We’ve got one major party planned!”
Other members of GCU’s Class of 2010 celebrated the start of a new career at midlife.
Doubts gave way to determination and finally delight for Barbara Anaya of Pueblo, Colo., who received her master’s in elementary education more than 20 years after graduating from the University of Dayton with a degree in chemistry.
Anaya, the mother of a 17-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter, found her purpose as a substitute teacher in Pueblo and concluded that the school classroom was where she belonged. She chose GCU’s master’s program because it didn’t require her to commute for any of her coursework, as other programs did.
“Teaching isn’t so much a career as it is a calling,” said Anaya, the daughter of former interim GCU President Donald Andorfer. “It had been knocking at the door for a long time. I needed to finally acknowledge that this is what I was meant to do.”
The master’s program took her about two and a half years to complete. She grew to appreciate the online interaction with her classmates, some of whom were thousands of miles away.
“People shared emotionally with things that were going on,” Anaya said. “We were there for each other. We were all walking the same path. You’d see people with struggles far greater than your own.
“I was a little skeptical about being able to do it all online. After all, I had typed my papers on a typewriter in college. But it worked out wonderfully well.”
At night, she often stayed up studying with her son, a straight-A student. At other times, she toted her books to her daughter’s swimming lessons.
“I felt like I would be so alone learning online,” Anaya said, “but it wasn’t that way. GCU had what I was looking for.”
Other graduates couldn’t make it to Arizona but were no less pleased with how their studies went.
“It’s been a great experience,” said Kevin Baggett, a firefighter and paramedic from Atlanta, Ga., who graduated from the Ken Blanchard College of Business with a bachelor’s degree in public safety administration. He already has enrolled in a master’s degree program in emergency fire leadership at GCU.
“I’ve made friends with people across the country,” Baggett said. “We’ve done group projects and assignments together. This is the (online) age we live in now.”
GCU’s colleges held convocations for graduates on Friday, April 30. Here were some of the highlights:
Ken Blanchard College of Business and College of Liberal Arts
Keynote speaker Dr. Bill McConkey of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh told the graduates, “Your purpose is to develop the people around you. There’s never been a CEO that’s any better than the people working for them. Your purpose is to bring out the best in other people.”
Dr. Ken Blanchard followed McConkey with simple, servant-leadership advice: “If you want to be happy for a lifetime, serve and help others.”
College of Education
In her keynote speech, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who lost her father at the age of 11, recalled the example set by her mother, who ran a dress store and worked seven days a week.
“Doing the right thing almost always means doing the hard thing,” Brewer said.
GCU alumnus Lucia Raz, an elementary-school teacher, challenged the graduates to bring their values into the classroom.
“I’m asking you to take your empathy and sincerity with you,” Raz said, “and you’ll see a classroom of cooperation grow.”
College of Nursing and Health Sciences
Keynote speaker Jamie Rasmussen, the senior pastor at Scottsdale Bible Church, remembered attending a graduation in the Midwest where the speakers were conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. and Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the long-running PBS children’s show.
Rasmussen said the unusual pairing was, in retrospect, representative of life itself.
“Life is difficult and easy, hard and soft, tough and tender, rugged and relational,” he said. “It’s all mixed up together, and sometimes on the same day.”
Faith, he said, isn’t for the faint of heart.
“It’s a tough-minded trait,” he said. “It looks a fallen world straight in the face and declares, ‘God is good.’”
Doug Carroll, Communications Manager
Grand Canyon University