By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
Having the opportunity to graduate and celebrate together safely was something that Grand Canyon University's Winter 2020 graduates didn’t take for granted.
They were even more appreciative of President Brian Mueller's announcement of a four-pronged initiative to make sure they are employed right away. The simple fact that University officials went to great lengths to even hold a ceremony would have been enough.
“A lot of people don’t get to do this,” Elementary Education graduate Ashley Griffus said as she exited GCU Arena to meet with her family. “I’m grateful.”
Mia Hernandez, who earned her degree in Special Education and Elementary Education, concurred: “I had a lot of friends who graduated last semester and didn’t get this, so I’m definitely grateful for the experience,” she said.
Because of the pandemic, the Spring 2020 and the Fall 2020 Commencements could not be in person. Fall Commencement was held virtually, and Saturday's students-only ceremonies also were available online to enable families and friends to watch.
Students, all wearing masks, were seated at least 6 feet apart in the Arena and COVID-19 protocols were closely followed, but students still found joy amid the physical distancing.
“It was wonderful,” Criminal Justice graduate Zyra Myers said. “I’m very appreciative and grateful to have the chance to be here. I’ve been at GCU for a year, so I’m super excited I even got the experience to graduate.”
Before the ceremony, in response to a GCU Today invitation to students to email their thoughts as Commencement approached, Myers wrote, "COVID made sure its name was known this year, but I thank God my family and I remained safe and healthy. I am happy to share another day with my niece, who recently turned 5 years old. Having my family near has kept a smile on my face during such hard times. Thank you to GCU for keeping your students safe and updating everyone as often as possible."
Although students’ families couldn’t be inside the Arena to cheer on their graduates, Criminal Justice graduate Shawn Franklin felt no shortage of love and excitement from his parents. Ursula and Steven, as he exited the arena.
“It’s just a moment to live,” he said. “They (GCU) definitely made it memorable. Just making it happen was a great experience.”
His parents felt the same.
“It was very exciting,” Ursula said.
History in Secondary Education graduate Joli Robinson was talking with a friend when her mother, Sharon Buerge, surprised her from behind with a big bear hug after watching Commencement online from her hotel room.
“It was awesome that we got to see it,” Buerge said.
With the ceremony being livestreamed, Robinson felt it was even more special for her and her family.
“It was cool because I have family who live out of state that got to watch it in the same way, so no one felt left out if I didn’t get enough tickets,” she said. “That was really cool, too.”
Mueller's announcement gave graduates another reason to appreciate their university.
“I thought it was amazing,” Elementary Education graduate Jade Lander said. “I think it just demonstrates the heart that he has and GCU has for their students and their wanting to give opportunities to the students, especially with the given times. I think it’s incredible that they have those opportunities for us.”
For Justice Studies graduate William Sanchez, the news made him proud to now be a GCU alumnus.
“It really shows how much GCU supports its students and even its alumni after they graduate,” he said. “It’s hard for some students to figure out what they're doing after college.”
For some students, it was exactly the news they needed to hear.
“I was like, ‘My parents, they’re loving this,’” said Levi Pryor, whose degree is in Digital Film with an Emphasis in Production. “I think it’s so important to have something lined up after college. I personally don’t, but I think the fact that GCU’s trying to implement that into its students and into the community, it shows that they care.”
Grads who are on track for employment welcomed the possibility of working for the University or one of its partners if their plans fall through.
“I definitely think that I have some plans set up already, but I don’t have anything set in stone yet,” History for Secondary Education graduate Jacob Porsoski said. “It’s just another option, and it’s so nice having that safety net as a graduate because a lot of people don’t have that. I do think I’ll definitely take advantage of it and have it on my radar.”
The reactions of the new graduates were best summed up by what Communications graduate Skye Malmberg wrote in an email to GCU Today leading up to the ceremony:
"As I walk across the stage, something that will make me smile is the support I have received from my family and friends as well as my excitement to move into the next chapter and get married in January. I have learned to trust God to provide in spite of all the chaos that has ensued during these past nine months. He will provide."
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].