By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Some surprises are fun little moments of mischief that amuse for a day or two.
This is not one of them.
This is a doozy.
Like, maybe the surprise to end all surprises – one that Mike Loven and his family will never, ever forget.
Wrap your head around this sentence: Loven received his bachelor’s degree in Finance and Economics from Grand Canyon University this fall, and he said he pulled it off without his wife, children and friends ever knowing that he had been working on it for more than four years.
He wanted to do it to honor his daughter, Taleigh, who graduated from GCU last month with a psychology degree. He also wanted to follow in the footsteps of his wife, Carrie, and son, Austin, who earned their college diplomas in recent years.
How did Mike do it? More importantly, why? We’ll get out of the way and let him explain:
“I’m not a person who encouraged my kids to go to college. I know that makes me a bad parent, but I always told them, ‘A man with experience is never at the mercy of a man with a theory.’
“I’m an entrepreneur – it just wasn’t in my mindset to go to college. Thankfully, my ex-wife and my wife encouraged the kids and they had somebody smarter than me in their life.
“My son went to a small college, and we kind of went through the normal procedure: You’d talk to this person about financial aid, you’d talk to that person about where they’re going to live and to another person about their meal plan.
“Then my daughter got interested in GCU. The counselor took care of everything and said, ‘That’s how we do it at GCU.’ From a parent perspective, this is the best school on the planet. I don’t understand why every other college in the world doesn’t operate this way. It was just great. So I was already a pretty proud parent from the jump when my daughter decided to go there.”
That was in the spring of 2016. But Loven quickly became more than just a “pretty proud parent.” He describes his behavior as “fanatical.” When he saw a young woman driving down the street in his hometown – Machesney Park, Illinois, just outside Rockford – with a GCU sticker on her car, he couldn’t help himself. He waved and gave her a Lopes Up.
“She probably was thinking, ‘What the heck is wrong with this guy?’” he remembered, laughing.
Then came June 5, 2016, when he had a middle-of-the-night revelation that was anything but normal.
“I can only say it was an absolute God thing. I just woke up and said, ‘You have to go back to college, and you have to do it as a surprise.’ I said, ‘I can do this. I can finish and graduate at the same time as Taleigh.’
“I knew where I was going back to college. It was absolutely going to be GCU.”
Loven had 17 credits from his previous college foray years earlier. His children both were toddlers back then, and he was working full time. He just couldn’t stick with it.
“There was no online then – adult education meant drive an hour and a half to the school, spend the night there working on your work, drive an hour and a half home,” he said. “It was hard. People have endured worse, but it was hard.”
It would be different this time thanks to GCU’s state-of-the-art online platform, but Loven still had the added burden of concealing his secret after he started the program on July 11, 2016. It became so unbearable, he told strangers about it when he traveled for work – he owns an industrial staffing agency.
There was another complication that could ruin everything: Taleigh lived on campus but occasionally took an online class. What if they wound up in the same one?
That almost happened. She took a psychology class that he had started not long before, and when she talked to him about some discussion questions, he responded, “I bet deviances is covered in the first chapter.”
“I looked pretty smart, but I had just read that chapter four weeks ago,” he said, laughing even harder this time.
When Taleigh came home during breaks, she would use his laptop. That meant he had to delete all of his recent files and web browser history for fear she would see his GCU work.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “this was not the activity of a really honorable person.”
More uproarious laughter.
Just the simple act of doing his classwork required some creative explanations. Loven said he did a lot of homework at his office, and when he did do it at home it was on his work laptop, so his family members figured he was still on the job.
As time went on, he couldn’t resist dropping a few bread crumbs for them to follow, knowing they would never suspect what he was doing.
One time, he said, he was having dinner with Carrie and Taleigh and blurted out, “I read somewhere about the downside of social media being that mesosystem and exosystem relationships now enter the microsystem due to daily contact.”
The truth: “I didn’t read that somewhere – it was a paper I wrote that day.”
More giggles. Retelling the story was almost as much fun as the surprise itself.
The experience was made even better by the fact that Loven’s principles mesh so well with those of the Colangelo College of Business. He calls himself “a passionate believer in conscious capitalism,” a bedrock of the college’s foundation, and attended a conscious capitalism conference where the speaker at a breakout session was CCOB Dean Dr. Randy Gibb.
Loven was further impressed when he introduced himself afterward and Gibb carefully explained the Bible verses that inspired the business philosophy. Loven also was amazed to see Raj Sisodia, co-founder of the conscious capitalism movement, sitting in the audience, listening attentively and asking questions.
There are other reasons why Loven is a huge GCU fan: The vast majority of his professors were “fantastic people,” he said, and he got a kick simply out of being on campus and eating at Canyon 49 Grill when he visited Taleigh.
“I just really love it,” he said. “The staff at the Grill is nice. It’s just everybody.”
When it finally was time to graduate, Loven had to figure out a way to attend the online ceremony for Fall Commencement without raising suspicions. After all those times he snuck off to do his classwork, he needed a really tall tale.
So he told Carrie he was going to work on that Saturday to rewire some servers. Instead, he put on the cap and gown he had hidden, went to the office and beamed as his face was displayed on the screen. Not only had he graduated, he had done so with a 3.99 GPA.
But he still had to wait more than two months to give his family the shock of their lives. The big reveal finally came last week, and here’s how it went:
“I walked in wearing a GCU alumni shirt. Everybody had a laugh. I said it was a mistake. Then I changed into another GCU alumni shirt and made the joke, ‘I guess they were on sale!’
“Then I snuck away again, put on my full cap, gown and honors ribbon, grabbed my diploma, walked into the room and announced, ‘Maybe this is why I have GCU alumni shirts.’ It was awesome. The confusion was epic as everyone tried to process what was happening.
“Someone thought GCU had printed Taleigh’s diploma wrong and accidentally put my name instead of hers. Tears flowed when they heard what I was saying. Most importantly, it enhanced my daughter’s achievements instead of overshadowing her.”
Now THAT’S the perfect ending to the perfect surprise party. To make it even better, Carrie had asked him several times why he wouldn’t consider going back to college for his degree – she thought he’d make a great student.
“I now know why he never really gave me a good answer to that question,” she said.
Let’s hope they all never stop achieving – and laughing about the surprise of a lifetime. This one takes more than the cake. It takes the whole bakery.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].