Grad shares journey from Australia to GCU

Sandra Hill left her home in Australia to play soccer for Grand Canyon University and, on Wednesday, was the student speaker for the first fall 2022 Commencement ceremony.

Photos by Ralph Freso/Slideshow

Sandra Hill remembers expressing her verbal commitment over the phone in 2017 to play soccer for Grand Canyon University.

Seconds afterward, “I drowned myself in tears. The moment I hung up, I felt a rush of emotion, mostly of doubt, of fear and uncertainty. I remember calling my best friend at the time and thinking I had just made the worst decision an 18-year-old can make,” Hill said on Wednesday afternoon from the GCU Arena stage, where she spoke to her fellow Colangelo College of Business graduates at the first of five Commencement ceremonies for nontraditional students.

The student speaker, a five-year defender for the women’s soccer team, had committed to boarding a plane and traveling 8,000 miles away from her hometown in Canberra, Australia. That plane would take her away from her family and friends and everything she knew to come to Phoenix, where nothing would feel like home.

“Some of you may be wondering how I ended up in Arizona, having grown up on the beautiful beaches of Sydney. Truth is, I didn’t have an answer until recently.”

Hill, who began her talk by insisting “not everything in Australia wants to kill you,” didn’t come to GCU because of its interesting name or the beautiful palm trees.

Colangelo College of Business graduates celebrate.

“I came because of the community I instantly fell in love with,” she said. “But, of course, my transition didn’t quite follow the ‘High School Musical’ soundtrack I imagined.’”

Hill’s transition has been profound.

Her mom is a “proud Cambodian,” and so she grew up in a Buddhist household.

When she arrived at GCU, she said, “I had no desire to follow any worldview, let alone the Christian worldview, despite attending a Christian school.”

She never was told to attend Chapel or join the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, but somehow, she was called to follow a new path.

“I was, to just put it simply, naturally drawn toward my friends, who God clearly was using as vessels in my life. It wasn’t until then … that I knew where I was supposed to be.

“Isn’t it interesting how our perspectives change the older we get and the more experiences that we have?” asked Hill, who came to GCU to play soccer and did so impressively while earning her bachelor’s degree in advertising/digital design.

Hill said she had no desire to follow any worldview when she arrived at GCU, but she felt God was using her friends as vessels in her life. It wasn't until then that she knew she was "where I was supposed to be."

After being ranked as a Top 10 Defender at the National Training Camps in Australia before being recruited to join GCU women’s soccer, she earned a spot on the All-WAC (Western Athletic Conference) Academic Team in 2019 and, this academic year, finished in the top 10 in GCU's Division I record books with 77 career appearances.

But, on Wednesday, Hill focused on celebrating her graduating class and its academic accomplishments, including her own.

Hill received her Master of Business Administration degree in project management, getting experience along the way working for Canyon Promotions, which creates custom-branded apparel, signage and more.

Not that the road to earning that degree has been easy.

Hill said throughout her years in college, she found herself turning to the same quote that has inspired her most of her life. It’s a quote from Mia Hamm: “Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back … play for her.”

I understand nothing in life is worthwhile without taking risks and backing yourself -- that if you trust your gut and do right in that moment, it will eventually all work out according to God's plan.

Student speaker Sandra Hill

Although the quote centers around soccer, she said it resonates a little differently to her now as she looks back on going through a global pandemic and the day-to-day hardships of earning her master’s degree as she continues to remember to “play for her.”

In this season of her life, she said, “I understand nothing in life is worthwhile without taking risks and backing yourself — that if you trust your gut and do right in that moment, it will eventually all work out according to God’s plan.

“Don’t get me wrong. There have been numerous times since we’ve been here that I found myself questioning my purpose, my worth and my decisions.” But “ … it’s learning to trust the process and allowing that experience to shape you, regardless of the outcome.”

And Hill has trusted GCU, the university in the desert 8,000 miles from her home and the beaches of Sydney — the university that once brought her to tears thinking of just how far it was from her life but that gifted her the friends, community and faith God meant her to have.

GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.


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Bible Verse

(Moses addressed Israel, reminding them of God's deliverance of them from Egypt, and His commands given to them:) "You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the miraculous signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out (from bondage and delivered you.). The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear." (Deuteronomy 7:19)

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