Honors banquet recognizes students’ achievements

Jordan Montgomery (left) and Jessica Symmes both received awards at the 2019 Honors College banquet. (Photo by Ashlee Larrison)

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

Honors College students were dressed to look their best for their annual banquet Saturday night at Grand Canyon University Arena, but Breanna Naegeli likes what she sees from them year-round. 

“The Honors College banquet is one of my favorite events of the year,” the Honors College Associate Dean said. “It allows us all an opportunity to take a moment to reflect upon and acknowledge all the exceptional work and efforts of our students. These students not only take Honors courses and commit to the rigor in the classroom, but they continually go above and beyond outside of the classroom as well.”

Dennis Williams (left) and Ruth Nsubuga hosted the  banquet. (Photo by Gillian Rea)

Naegeli said the most difficult part of preparing for the banquet is selecting the award recipients. All of the Honors students deserve recognition, in her view.

“Our students keep getting stronger, brighter and more involved each year -- so the decisions are never easy,” Naegeli said.

The event was put together by the Honors College students for the Honors College students, from event design to the script and marketing. Students arrived in their best red-carpet attire for the Oscars-style celebration and were greeted by a selection of food, a spotlit stage and a movie compilation, clipped together to form an empowering thank-you message to them.

Jordan Montgomery, tasked with selecting the theme for the banquet, said she was inspired by the rustic vibe from the previous banquet and wanted to go with a movie theme.

Hosts Dennis Williams and Ruth Nsubuga took the stage first, getting the crowd ready for the awards. Pairs of students then took turns announcing the winners throughout the evening until all the awards were distributed.

Montgomery, one of the four recipients of the Distinguished Achievement award, wasn’t expecting to win an award.

“I was definitely in shock,” Montgomery said. “I was in shock for a good five minutes. Now it’s just settling in and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I got it.'”

Luke Amargo (left) and Faith Beatty (right) presented Aria Geaslen with the Honors College Student Board Member of the Year award. (Photo by Gillian Rea)

Kendall Smith, named the Outstanding Freshman of the Year, said she feels honored to have had the opportunity to work with the Honors College.

“This is the first time I’ve gone to an Honors banquet, and I think it’s absolutely beautiful,” Smith said. “I am very blessed to have received this award.”

Jaxson Adams, awarded for his first-place symposium showcase submission on growth mindset in education and a recipient of the Future is Bright award, likewise felt honored.

“I put a whole lot of work and effort into the symposium project, but with the Future is Bright award, I had no idea,” Adams said. “It’s so awesome to be recognized for the work that I’ve been doing throughout the year.”

Jessica Symmes won the final award of the night, the Dean’s Selection. It is given to the student that has gone far past what is expected, someone for whom the description of hard working would be considered an understatement.

“I’m very excited, mostly because I look up to the faculty in the Honors College so much,” Symmes said. “I’m honored and blessed because I value what they say and I value the work they do for the Honors College.”

Several plaques and trophies were given to students at the Honors banquet. (Photo by Gillian Rea)

After awards were distributed, students and faculty in attendance took an opportunity to thank Naegeli for all the effort she puts into her work at the Honors College.

Naegeli has been credited with the creation of the Honors banquet, now in its fifth year, and has watched it grow and evolve from a small barbecue on the lawn to a formal banquet for hundreds of students in the Arena.

“I am beyond pleased to witness our bright, driven and eager Honors students develop into these exemplary, well-rounded leaders with strong character.” Naegeli said. “I’m honored to have the privilege to see and work with these students throughout the year.”


Academic Excellence – Joshua Lee

Canyon Spirit – Sean Thomason

Honors College Student-Athlete of the Year – Quin Cotton

Exceptional Commitment – Cheney Huls

Inspirational Leader – Dominic Pachuilo

Outstanding Community Outreach – Sara Cordero

Global Impact and Innovation – Elisha Fronda

Future is Bright – Denisse Delos Santos, Shannon Walker, Jaxson Adams, Brian Mucyo and Morgan Lentz

Spotlight – Luke Elliott, Wendy Zhang, Ethan Nichols, Melissa Papulski, Regan Roth, Alexis Maddy

Honors College Student Board Member of the Year – Aria Geaslen, NSCS

Champion of Character – Joel Conrad, Jennifer Falcon Cruz

Outstanding Freshmen of the Year – Kendall Smith

Outstanding Senior of the Year – Angela Bratt

Distinguished Achievement – Jordan Montgomery, Kaylor Jones, Amanda Burns, Gabriela Calhoun

Dean’s Selection – Jessica Symmes

Honors Faculty of the Year – Dr. David Dean


4th Place: “I Am Watrrr,” by Emily Rodas, Luke Elliott, Regan Roth, Alexis Stigers, Melody Garland, Wendy Zhang and Alexis Maddy

3rd Place: “3Derma,” by Gabriela Calhoun, Sean Thomason, Ethan Nichols, Jodi Swett, Elizabeth Mouw, Breana Schiete, Jessica Guillen and Taeler Jones

2nd Place: “Muse,” by Melissa Papulski, Michelle Fifif, Madison Drouin, Caden Tonkinson and Kendall Smith

1st Place: “Growth Mindset in Education,” by Jaxson Adams

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Honors College Banquet celebrates best, brightest

GCU Today: CSET, Honors College showcase student research


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