Speedfriending had their interest at hello

New GCU students made new friends at Speedfriending on Monday night in Juniper Field.

Photos by Zachary BonDurant Slideshow

Steven Owens was the event's organizer.

Welcome Week approached Grand Canyon University fast — but not as fast as Speedfriending occurred Monday night.

Juniper Field was illuminated and the air was filled with chatter as freshmen flooded the steel gates eager to create friendships and make connections.

Speedfriending is meant to encourage incoming students to venture outside their residence halls and build new relationships. For event coordinator Steven Owens, this perspective encouraged him while planning the event.

“At first the event seemed small, but then I realized how impactful it was to students and how much we can utilize this to make meaningful connections," he said. "That really happened when I heard testimonies of students that have met through this event and have become lifelong friends.”

Owens had a special reason for having Spiritual Life leaders AJ Vanderley and Broder Magnuson emcee the event.

Emcee AJ Vanderley remembered how important it was to make connections when he was a freshman.

“I chose them because they are cultivators of community on GCU’s campus by being involved in many aspects of community involving faith, friends and student leadership,” he said. “They are people that spearhead community at GCU — they are really inviting and loving toward everyone that they meet.”

Vanderlay and Magnuson are great examples of what it is to be a Lope. The dancing duo made Juniper Field their stage, and the students gathered around were just as energetic. They humorously instructed the freshmen to form two large circles around each other, rotating left and right to encourage new connections and conversations.

Being involved in the excitement of Welcome Week evokes a lot of nostalgia — especially for Vanderley, a junior.

“One of the cool things is that Steven was a senior when I was a freshman, and there were a couple seniors that took me under their wing,” he said. “It was cool to see their heart for the freshmen and really empowered me to go crazy for events and meeting a lot of people. It’s a very inclusive and united community.”

Freshmen were not the only ones who benefited from Speedfriending. For some, this Welcome Programs event made up for lost time.

“I’ve never regretted doing things. I’ve only regretted not doing things,” said Magnuson. “As college progressed, I’ve let life affect me and missed out on things I would have enjoyed. Every time I did show up was always a good experience. This event is one of those moments for me.”

For Vanderley, seeing Lopes reaching out to incoming students with an open heart is an unforgettable experience.

“As a junior, it makes me really proud to see the sophomores excited to meet the freshman and invite them into this community,” he said, beaming proudly at the roar of welcoming students. “Freshmen are loved here at GCU, which is different than most colleges. Freshmen are never the focus — and here, they are.”

Kelton Fuchs (left) relished the opportunity to pray on another student.

In the midst of chaos, freshman Kelton Fuchs created a moment of stillness for another freshman who changed his major to Christian ministry. Fuchs can relate — he's a Christian ministry major, too. With his hands laid on this complete stranger’s shoulders, Fuchs prayed a prayer of guidance and reassurance.

“I’ve had people out of the blue pray for me, so I wanted to uplift him and ask the Lord to guide his life more,” he said.

This newfound friendship didn't stop there.

“I asked him to wave me down if he sees me around campus — and I would do the same to him," Fuchs said. "I just felt the Holy Spirit moving in that moment.”

Matt Lunsford and his family enjoyed watching daughter Ella take part in the event.

Although students come from all over the world, there is one thing these freshmen have in common: worried parents — but not about GCU. Some parents lingered to watch the craze of Speedfriending unfold, and among them was a father who homeschooled his daughter prior to her arrival at GCU.

“She is animated, getting into it and not staying back observing. I see the ‘If I’m going to go for it, I’m going to go for it’ attitude and I am super impressed with her bravery,” Matt Lunsford said as he watched his daughter Ella disappear in the sea of purple. “It makes me very emotional to see.”

Matt Lunsford was impressed that GCU had programs focused on welcoming students and encouraging connections.

“As a parent that is your biggest concern. It is not about whether they will find their classes, it’s about finding community — which GCU is huge about," he said.

For those who may struggle to socialize or find connections, Vanderley has a philosophy.

“Being uncomfortable creates growth. In all I do, I think, ‘I’m gonna embrace being uncomfortable and I’m going to encourage younger people to embrace it as well.’”

Contact staff writer Lydia P. Robles at 602-639-7665 or [email protected].

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