Newest alumni display their oversized GCU spirit

By Karen Fernau and Jeannette Cruz 
GCU News Bureau

Members of the Class of 2017 at Grand Canyon University said Thursday that they'll be as dedicated as alumni as they were as undergraduates. They're Lopes forever.

Maureen Katzenberger and her family display their Havocs-style "big head" of her granddaughter, Taylor Eggleston.

“I’m done with homework, but I’ll never be done with GCU," said Andrea Hamilton, an Honors College student and Communications major from San Diego. "It’s my college forever.”

Graduates leave campus for jobs, graduate school, families and travel with a united purpose – tucking GCU in their hearts and minds.

Meghan Lambert, a psychology major from Ventura, Calif., explained it this way: “GCU and its teachers are my family for life. They mean everything to me, and I’ll take them with me wherever I go.”

Even the graduates' families got into it. Maureen Katzenberger and her family were carrying a large, cardboard poster of the head of her granddaughter, Taylor Eggleston, similar to what the Havocs student cheering section waves at games. Eggleston is a member of the Havocs, and her grandma is one of their biggest fans.

“I’ve been to many Lopes games, and I think the Havocs are just wonderful,” Katzenberger said. “Grand Canyon to me is upbeat, fun and has my heart.”

For many graduates at Thursday’s traditional commencement ceremonies in GCU Arena, graduation triggered a collision of exhilaration and trepidation.

Marissa Raymundo

They talked of being relieved to be done with tests and homework but nervous about the future.

“It’s both exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time,” said Marissa Raymundo, a Psychology major from Highland, Calif. “I’m not sure I’m ready to grow up.”

Alfred DeLacerda, a Counseling major from Oxnard, Calif., is ready – sort of.

“I’ve been a student my whole life and am a bit anxious to see what the real world brings,” he said.

Madison Scherer (left) with her parents, Marya and Timothy Nielander.

They talked about the sadness of leaving their teachers.

“I had the best relationships with all my teachers. Each one didn’t just know my name, they knew my middle name,” said Lambert, who plans to attend graduate school. 

They also talked about leaving the warm cocoon of a Christian campus.

“I’ll miss professors praying for us before exams. It’s been a place where I’ve been able to grow my faith,” said Christina Leon, a Psychology major from Phoenix whose mortarboard contained a Biblical message, “Be the light for all to see.” 

Graduates talked about missing all things GCU.

As Madison Sherer, a Psychology major from Orange County, Calif., explained, “There’s nothing I won’t miss, from basketball games to all the relationships I had while here. Yes, it’s sad, but it’s such an honor to receive a degree from a college like GCU.”

Unlike so many of her classmates, Willow Smith, a Business Management major from Flagstaff, won’t miss campus. That's because she's not leaving – she has accepted a job as an assistant resident director.

“It makes it so much easier to graduate knowing I can stay here,” she said. “GCU is growing fast, but it still feels like a friendly, small town. I walk around campus and know so many. I’m so glad I am staying.”

Willow Smith

Commencement is filled with graduates and their stories, about how they arrived, how they overcame adversities. 

No two are the same. No one story is more important than the other.

Here’s a sampling of a few others from the Class of 2017:

Kylee Aranaydo has been living in Phoenix for the last four years without her family – all to complete her psychology degree at GCU.

It was one hour before the ceremony and Aranaydo’s mother, who flew in from Hawaii, could not contain her excitement.

“I could cry,” she said. 

Aranaydo said she arrived in Phoenix with her boyfriend after she “fell in love with the cute little GCU antelope on TV.”

Kylee Aranaydo

Though the 2,000-mile transition from home was difficult, Aranayado said she quickly made new friends on campus that she could lean on for support. She already has been hired as an online student services adviser (SSA) at the University and plans on continuing her master's within the next three months.

Like many college students, Kristi Ann Corely was struggling a bit to make ends meet. Fortunately, her big sister, Juliann Murray, was only one call away when emotional and financial support was highly necessary.

Murray recalled how she drove seven hours from New Mexico with her 4-year-old son, Drew, to drop off Corely on her first day — even though she had pneumonia. 

Relieved and in tears just before Thursday’s morning commencement ceremony, Murray said, “(Kristi) was working two jobs and earning good grades and now she’s here – she’s only 21 and she’s finished in three years.”

She added, “Of course, now she can pay for me.”

Sydnee Daniel

Corely graduated with her bachelor’s in Psychology and, like Aranaydo, is going to remain at GCU as an online SSA, for the College of Theology.

“I just really love this community,” Corely said.

For Sydnee Daniel, Thursday ended an emotional three-year journey, 300 miles away from home, to earn a Marketing degree.

The San Diego student credited her friends, teachers and the track and field team at GCU for encouraging her as time went on.

“That’s what makes it really hard to say goodbye,” Daniel said. “At first, it was really hard to not want to go back home, and there were so many times I wanted to run back to my mom and not be a responsible adult – and my track team, honestly, got me through this. There’s 100 of us, and they’re all brothers and sisters to me now."

Looking at her future, Daniel said, “It’s not as scary anymore as I thought it would be.”

Contact Karen Fernau at (602) 639-8344 or [email protected] and Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or [email protected].


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