GCU News Bureau
Breana Lee, the student speaker in the Wednesday morning ceremony of Spring Commencement in Grand Canyon University, began by saying, “My words won’t do justice to my amazing experience at GCU.”
You could have fooled her audience, especially her fellow graduates.
Lee had a lot to say in eight minutes, starting with the word God gave her years ago – constant.
“I wanted to be seen as a woman with integrity, character, humor, joy and depth no matter what the situation,” she said. “Constant was more than a word. It was a challenge to live out who I say I am, in all things, at all times, in every word, behavior and action. Simple? Not at all.”
She said she wanted to respond in constancy rather than fear when she failed and urged graduates to do the same.
“It is critical for you to know what you believe, because your beliefs are foundational in your decision-making and choosing how to live,” she said. “The conviction to live out your beliefs comes from those beliefs being your own, not your parents, professors or friends. We cannot stand firm on a belief that we are willing to throw away as soon as things get tough.
“This world needs a generation of men and women like you who make a positive impact by living on purpose. Live intentionally, live faithfully and persevere in constancy.”
Finally, she praised the way GCU responded to the pandemic:
“Even with the world changing, we received a phenomenal education. We watched as professors became innovative in how to engage their students. We saw the way that GCU went out of (its) way to communicate as things changed so rapidly and did their best to support, encourage and empower us.
“I saw Grand Canyon University remain constant and stand firm in (its) beliefs, in faith and in the desire to provide an outstanding education. Faculty and administration, thank you. We would not have been able to succeed without you.”
“I would love to say it has been an easy, uneventful journey, but that has not been the case. Between moves, hurricanes, family issues and personal health problems, my coursework has experienced several interruptions, but as Gloria Gaither says, ‘God is in the interruptions!’
“The first physical issue was my vision. I began to have a great deal of difficulty reading and was experiencing pain and burning in both eyes. Through a detailed examination, it was discovered that I have a rare eye disease that affects the cornea.
“My first eye surgery, on my right eye, was in the fall of 2019 and took eight weeks to heal. Then on Jan. 8, 2020, I fell in the shower, hitting the back of my head on the tile wall. This required a trip to the emergency room. After several X-rays and CT of my skull, I was told I had a small round ‘thing’ deep in my brain that would require a visit with a neurologist.
“More tests to determine the size, shape and location of what was thought to be a tumor, revealed instead that I had a brain aneurysm. Another scan brought the news there could be more than one aneurysm. Because of the pandemic, I had to wait until July 9 for a craniotomy. No one was allowed to be with me during the surgery and the three days I was in ICU. But God (my two favorite words when used together) never left my side, and I was not afraid.
“Since then, we have ridden out another hurricane, moved and I had surgery on my left eye last fall, which was delayed because of the aneurysm. I contracted COVID at the beginning of the year, and the headaches made it difficult to concentrate. But I am blessed and happy to say I have very little residual damage to my memory from the surgery, and with God's help I have not given up. I earned my bachelor's degree in Christian Studies with an Emphasis in Worship Leadership with a 3.94 GPA!
“I am 71. Many people asked me if I really intended to walk across the stage, and I responded, ‘Absolutely! In fact, I will be the gray-haired lady with the biggest smile and tears running down her cheeks and praising God!’
“Thank you, Grand Canyon University, for making this program possible! Thank you for the high standards you set for your students! Thank you to Student Services counselors such as Lorianna Valverde and Ashley Sears, who always supported and encouraged me along the way! Thank you for the professors in the College of Theology who share so much wisdom, faith, love and guidance to those in their charge!
“But most of all, thank You, Lord, for allowing me to achieve this goal and for the opportunities to serve You that await me!”
“My dad kept encouraging me to get my master’s, but I always hesitated – mainly because of student loans. But after my sister received her master’s from GCU in 2020, I decided to go for my MBA and chose GCU. My dad was so happy! He then talked to me about the importance of education and knowledge and other things fathers talk to us kids about.
“Little did I know that would be my last conversation with him. A few months later, he died of COVID. I was devastated. I had to move in and take care of my mom and wanted to quit school, but my amazing counselor who has been there with me the whole time, Kate Brinson, told me I could take a break and come back to school. But I knew if I took a break, I would not come back. So I decided to stick to it and get through my master’s because I knew it's what my dad would have wanted.
“The past year was the hardest year for me – doing school, working full time and taking care of my mom and my family. But I knew I wouldn't have done this if it wasn't for an amazing God in heaven who helped me get through it. The amazing professors also helped me so much by incorporating spirituality into the classes.
“God has answered my prayers so many times on the nights I would cry and want to quit. But I did it! I am so grateful for my dad, my family, for my professors, classmates, GCU and its amazing resources, and a loving Heavenly Father who is always mindful of me and has helped me get to where I am today.
“Anything is possible when we keep God in our lives and do His amazing work in blessing the lives of others. That’s my hope for my journey of life. I know my dad is looking down on me and proud of my accomplishments. I know I can continue to use what I have learned and continue to go out and build the Lord's Kingdom by serving and helping others in need.”
“When my son graduate from high school in 2019, I helped him register for community college with the intent to transfer to a university. Reviewing the coursework and seeing that it was possible to complete it online, I decided to go back to school and complete a degree.
“I’m 43, work a full-time job and have a family. I previously had attended college fresh out of high school, but with kids (I have three, ages 21, 15 and 10) and having a wife with multiple sclerosis, the challenges of attending school in person and working a full-time job were too much at the time.
“My wife had a grand mal seizure because of complications with her MS in 2013. In July of that year, we got away to Las Vegas to spend time together after all we had been through. Arriving in the desert in the summer was like flipping a light switch, and my wife had her energy.
“We realized that living in the sun-deprived Pacific Northwest was not good for the family, so we stepped out in faith and moved the family to Phoenix. I left my job of 13 years at Microsoft and started my own business. It was an extreme leap of faith that we made in 2014.
“I eventually took a job with Wells Fargo in IT because the health care costs were too much on my own. I’m now at a point in my career where I need a degree to move up. I’m graduating from GCU this spring. I will have gone from my AA last August to completing my B.S. in Business Administration in 10 months. “Without GCU, this would not have been possible. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities that GCU has opened up to me.”
“I’m a Native American living on a small reservation. When the pandemic hit I lost my grandmother, who was our matriarch. I had one of the toughest classes, and the majority of us failed it. I could have quit right there, but my amazing counselor helped me see other options. I took the same class at another university, got an A and transferred my credits. Through two semesters, I had a 4.0 GPA.
“I used what I went through as the strength to keep going with my faith in God. This is why I chose GCU for my bachelor’s degree in education and next will start on my master’s. I am a first-year Elementary School Teacher and first-year deployed spouse, and I love GCU because of its online program.”
“I’m a recovering addict who has been clean for almost 12 years. I found God again in 2008 and pulled myself out of that hell. I relapsed in 2010, got clean on July 12 of that year and have been clean ever since.
“At the end of 2019, my husband and I relocated to Arizona with the dream of owning a home and furthering my career in the home-building industry. I enrolled in GCU in March 2020 in hopes of meeting people in Arizona. Then the world entered into the pandemic.
“I started my MBA program in May 2020 on Zoom. During my almost two years in the program, I’ve had two major surgeries, I was furloughed from my job for a short time, we bought our first home ever and I worked in the most challenging home-building industry of most of our lifetimes. Despite all the challenges, I kept God first and finished my degree.”
GCU Today: Commencement speech evokes happy memories