Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
Rehema Stephens never settled.
As a result, she stood before a Grand Canyon University Arena Commencement audience – not as a former basketball star reliving glory days from courts like the one below the stage – but as a graduate gathering her third master’s degree.
“I am a believer,” Stephens told the crowd. “And I believe there is nothing I can’t do.”
The former professional and college athlete and student speaker of Tuesday afternoon's Commencement for master’s degrees from the College of Education said that confidence and her accomplishments were birthed from one conversation with her mother. She still can hear it ring in her head:
“Education will take you places,” her mom told her. “And there is nothing you can't do when you put your mind to it.”
Stephens established habits in middle school that she continued throughout her life to become the second-leading scorer in UCLA women’s basketball history by the time she graduated in 1998. She went on to play professionally overseas and in the WNBA for the Sacramento Monarchs before transitioning to an education career.
“But I wasn’t a great student,” she said in an earlier interview. “In high school, I skated by. I could have stayed average, but I decided I wanted to be the best, just like in athletics. And those skills I created in middle school and high school didn’t go away.”
Stephens knew to succeed in athletics she had to develop new skills to ascend to the next level. It also was true in her career.
She earned a master’s in business administration after leaving professional basketball in 1999 to embark on her business of mentoring and coaching elite athletes. She got a master’s in school counseling to begin her teaching and school counseling career and complete a three-year stint as coach of the Phoenix Mountain Pointe girls’ basketball team. Now she is working toward the goal of becoming a principal by earning a master’s in school administration from GCU.
“I went back and added to my repertoire. I’m always ascending to the next level. Are you always moving forward to your passion? That passion will propel you to your next destination,” said the school counselor at Desert Winds Middle School in Maricopa, Arizona.
Her passion became helping children find confidence. It came natural to her, ever since her mom sat her down as a young woman and told her she could do whatever she put her mind to.
Today, Stephen’s counselor room is adorned with a whiteboard with seven words to success: self-confidence, empathy, self-control, integrity, perseverance, curiosity and optimism.
“I ask my kids, ‘You want to be average?’”
“You have to create habits and sustain them. You’ve got to build the right skills and be committed to academics, same as in athletics where you’ve got to shoot every day to get better.”
Children who struggled through the pandemic with isolation while trying to learn are now challenged, and she spends a lot of time on mental health during sessions with students.
“I’m supposed to be here. When I wake up in the morning, I know I am supposed to be here,” Stephens said. “So my hope is that graduates won’t settle. That they will find their passion. When you operate in passion, everyone benefits from it – your co-workers, the kids you work with, the teachers, the parents, they all benefit from it. They see that light in your eyes.
“Don’t settle, keep ascending. Once you find that area, that passion, success will find you and money will find you.”
Stephens said she just got a big raise.
“Money will find you if you are operating on purpose and passion. We can’t outdo God. God will always work in our favor if we are operating in passion and purpose.”
She said God shaped her since the time she picked up a basketball, so now she can look back and be grateful.
“I grew up in inner city Oakland. But I had structure at home, dinner every night on the table, in before the streetlights went on. I didn’t realize that all prepared me for what was next. I didn’t realize everybody didn’t have that. Man, I had it good, and I grew up in the 'hood.
“I think kids now, a lot of them struggle. I can help them navigate this world with so many distractions, with so much pulling at them. We are supposed to be the light and salt. There is nothing we can’t do with God on our side. Nothing.”
That’s why she ended her speech to educators Tuesday with this:
“Let your light shine. Be that beacon of hope …”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
The Tuesday morning student speaker, Ellie Garrison, talked about how "individual flourishing can produce greater flourishing in others," something she witnessed in the clinical mental counseling program. "God designed us uniquely to bring our gifts to the world," she said.
"Each one of you are designed by God to care about something. Care, or what you care about, isn't a feeling. It's simply woven into you. You were designed with it in your heart, and it serves as part of God's invitation to you to participate in His plan for human flourishing. This is a staggeringly beautiful truth."
She left the graduates with this question: What is your care?
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