My LopeLife: They had to be all business to succeed

GCU News Bureau

Editor’s note: My LopeLife is a GCU Today feature in which students, faculty, staff and alumni share enlightening experiences. During Fall Commencement, we’re giving the online students a chance to share their thoughts as they come to campus to accept their hard-earned diplomas – only they’re enlightening us. Here’s what some Colangelo College of Business graduates wrote in advance of their 2 p.m. ceremony Thursday; their thoughts are accompanied by David Kadlubowski's photos. For a full replay of the ceremony, click here.


In 2009, during my last year of high school, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 head and neck cancer and also found out I was pregnant.

I went through extensive reconstructive surgery in which my neck was cut open from ear to ear. I went through 38 rounds of radiation therapy and two rounds of chemotherapy. I went from a healthy 110 pounds down to 79 pounds. I lost my hair, sense of taste, sense of smell, and fell into deep depression, becoming addicted to morphine and pain medication. I had to have all my teeth removed and did not want to be seen in public. I was hospitalized for five months and needed help to take care of myself and my baby.

A year later, with the encouragement of my mother, my school counselors and my family and friends, I finished my last semester of high school without having to attend. After graduation, I made the decision to matriculate into Grand Canyon University because my condition would not allow me to be able to go to a traditional school.

I was still going through treatment. I was walking on a walker. I was not able to stand the sunlight. I was bald and had no teeth. I had to nourish myself through a feeding tube. However, I was still determined to go to college.

It took me almost nine years to complete this journey. But after living cancer free for the whole time, I was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue after I entered my final class this year. I am scheduled to have another reconstructive surgery, but my doctors allowed me to participate in my graduation ceremony.

I am walking across the stage at Grand Canyon University in victory because I believe the report of the Lord! He has promised me long life, and I trust God! I also am grateful for the encouragement and assistance given by my counselors.

Sarah E. Anderson

B.S. in Applied Management


Critical Mass entertains the crowd before the ceremony.

I grew up having no parental example of what I could become, where to go or what to do with my life. I was lonely and wanted to belong to a family. At times, I felt lost.

I vowed that when I got a family of my own, I would celebrate moments, provide support, create guidance and learn to celebrate monumental achievements. I am now a father of two boys, and through their lives I want to be the father I never had but, most importantly, provide a path for them to follow.

After graduating from college with my bachelor’s degree, I was in pure bliss – something I never had felt before. I knew now it was time for me to create the guidance and hope for my boys, so this journey with me going back to college to get my master’s was to show my boys what’s possible.

My goal is for them to both be a better version of me. I won’t do this by telling them, I will do it by leading with my actions. This accomplishment shows them what they are capable of, shows them the importance of never giving up and shows that happiness can be found even in the darkest of times as long as you always remember to turn to the light within.

The light that shines within will always conquer all, so just believe in yourself, believe you're God’s creation and always remember Romans 8:31 – “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Morris Jackson



Eight years ago, I decided to finish my education with GCU, but on that very day I suffered an aortic dissection. The doctors fixed the dissection, but I had multiple strokes on both sides of my brain during surgery. When I awoke, I was unable to speak.

My recovery would entail learning how to walk and talk again. I was in the hospital and an inpatient rehab for six weeks, then continued my recovery in outpatient rehab for six months.

In 2015, with the encouragement from my family and friends I enrolled in the GCU online program to finish my degree. By the grace of God, I survived this ordeal.

I thank God for the opportunity of life and finishing my degree. In completing this endeavor, I was able to keep a promise to my late mother.

Derrick Porter

B.S. in Applied Management


Dr. Tim Griffin, Pastor and Dean of Students, greets the audience at the start of the ceremony.

Twenty years later ...

Life had a non-traditional journey for me, but I have no regrets. I graduated high school as a soon-to-be mother. I raised three daughters, moved to another state, met my soulmate and donated my kidney to my father. I am glad to show to my now 20-year old college daughter that in life anything is possible as long as you have faith and determination. 

Maribel Costell

B.S. in Business Administration


My commencement story started 20 years ago. I was a new college student with none of the tools necessary to make me successful in my classes. I left my college with the idea that I would come back eventually. I didn’t and life happened, as it always does.

Then … the opportunity of a lifetime. My husband got a job with GCU in the admissions department. This was the greatest gift – the ability to go to back to college. Although I already had a career and two little boys at home, I was determined to make it work.

I began my second leg of my college journey in 2014. The classes made sense and they were incredibly interesting and relevant. Then my husband got in a motorcycle accident and I made a life choice to take a break from GCU. My advisors were incredibly supportive and helped me stay connected until the day I could return.

This year I came back with a passion for learning that I hadn’t had before, and I know it was God moving me to my destiny. I have completed a dream for myself and my family.

Thank you, GCU.

Monica Ortiz
B.S. in Business Administration


“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” – Oscar Wilde

I am a first-generation college student and a Nez Perce tribal member. I make up less than 1% of college graduates. I earned my master’s degree while caring for my three children alone – my husband is deployed.

I was raised by a very strong mother and grandmother. I consider their strength and wisdom every day when things seem tough. This has not been an easy road, but it has been worth it. After all, if it was easy, everyone would do it.

Nicolet Palmer

M.S. in Leadership


I am almost 40 and a first-generation college graduate on both sides of my family. I didn't go back to school to necessarily further my career. I went back because I wanted to keep learning and, most importantly, to show my two children how much education, determination and hard work mean to me.

Getting my college degree signifies so much more than a piece a paper. I am forever grateful to my wonderful husband and children for their support. 

Brianna Schmaltz 

B.S. in Marketing


The large crowd exits GCU Arena.

I call my commencement story “His Perfect Timing.”

In 2000, I married at age 19 with no idea what I wanted to do in life or even knowing what my purpose/mission in life was. For all those years my husband and I could not bear children.

In our 13th year we hit rock bottom, and our marriage was holding on by a thread until one day we felt God in our hearts – His perfect timing. We hit the reset button and began to pray for our purpose together, our mission.

Two years later, we finally found it in our hearts to contact Child Protective Services and begin the process for fostering/adoption. His perfect timing. God sent us three beautiful children that we adopted. Like us, they are imperfect but perfect for each other.

An opportunity to finish my degree arose, and I took it. His perfect timing. During my three years of study, my banking career began to flourish. His perfect timing. This year God blessed us even more, and I got pregnant with a beautiful little baby girl. His perfect timing – our marriage, our kids, our careers, what our heart desires, our purpose.

Age is but a number and time goes by too fast to fret on the things we can't do. What about the things we can? We must be able to accept chaos and dissect it for good, big or small. Never give up and stay positive. What our heart wants will come at His perfect timing, not ours.

Airynee Lopez 

B.S. in Business Management


I was a 28-year-old chief technology officer of a Fortune 100 company and a 30-year-old CEO and founder of a company, and I later became Vice Chairman of USA Rugby. But in a long conversation with my father in 2018, I told him I had decided to embrace a new passion – the business of sports.

He reminded me that I hadn’t gotten my MBA, as my brothers did, and that is when I discovered that the MBA program at GCU has a concentration in sports business. This would afford me the opportunity to continue my work in venture capital, my board of director roles and my role with USA Rugby while achieving a master’s.

A year later, my father passed peacefully after a battle with heart disease. After the services, we had a family discussion about the time I was committing to work, my many business roles and my education at GCU.

I explained to my brothers that while I was sure that I could secure a position in sports business without an MBA, I was going to complete the degree at GCU because we always were taught to honor our commitments.

As I looked forward to walking across the stage at GCU Arena, I reflect on the opportunity to attend GCU and achieve this honor. I have had the opportunity to learn, grow and accept the challenges that lie ahead. I am honored to be a GCU alumnus!

Paul Santinelli


Related content:

GCU Today: Slideshow: Fall Commencement, Friday evening ceremony

GCU Today: My LopeLife: Passion for education drives teachers

GCU Today: My LopeLife: Nurses know all about hanging tough

GCU Today: My LopeLife: Tales of doctoral, nursing challenges

GCU Today: Slideshow: Fall Commencement, Friday afternoon ceremony

GCU Today: Slideshow: Fall Commencement, Friday morning ceremony

GCU Today: My LopeLife: Stories from Thursday evening session

GCU Today: Slideshow: Fall Commencement, Thursday evening ceremony

GCU Today: Jamaican graduate hopes degree will impact others

GCU Today: Kirk Cameron delivers powerful message to grads

GCU Today: GCU reaches 1,000 signed doctoral dissertations

GCU Today: Slideshow: Fall Commencement, Thursday afternoon ceremony

GCU Today: Slideshow: Fall Commencement, Thursday morning ceremony

GCU Today: My LopeLife: Humanities grads share their joy


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