Top stories, photos depict an emotional GCU year

GCU News Bureau

GCU Today, GCU Magazine and publish thousands of stories and photographs every year. Every single one has its place in the accomplishments, the joys and the heartaches of Grand Canyon University students, faculty, staff and alumni and in the events they attend and produce.

But then there are those that produce an extra round of applause, another chuckle or a deep heart tug. We won't forget them, and neither will you. Here are the stories and photos of 2021 that stood out, in our opinion, with the writer's comment about each one. Three words come to mind: achievement, kindness ... and, most certainly, emotion.

Ana Herrera, left, and her father, Jose Luis, show the range of emotions after they heard Ana won an SIS scholarship to GCU. (Photo by Mathew McGraw)


SIS scholarship winners make their parents proud

Despite the challenges of these times, GCU has a way of fostering joy. The May evening when parents sat aside their children to hear the surprise announcement of a Students Inspiring Students scholarship to neighborhood teens in need was especially emotional. Many are children of immigrant parents who sacrificed to make a better life for their children. Ana Herrera cried with her father, thinking of how her mother feels. “She passed away due to COVID last year,” Ana said. “But now with this I know that she is proud and is looking down on me and is so happy.”

It took weeks of practice, nearly every night for three hours, to pull off 6 Beats Apart's stunts at Lip Sync. (Photo by Rick D'Elia)

Dancing students pack GCU Arena for Lip Sync

Again, the joy. Life is supposed to be fun, students reminded us, as they often do with music. Perhaps no event showed how the campus reunited in 2021 more than the Lip Sync Battle, when 7,000 students filled GCU Arena to the ceiling and broke out in song and dance, even before it started. When the team of 6 Beats Apart captured the top prize in the annual student talent competition, few could imagine that “none of us could dance to save our lives,” said team captain Christian Juhl. But they united and learned to dance, and that was 2021 in a nutshell.

Dr. Excel Theophilus Ukpohor traveled 28 hours from Nigeria for Commencement. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

GCU went the extra mile this fall, and so did grads

If there is an interconnected theme to the joys of 2021, it’s renewal. And that was on display throughout the fall with some 7,000 students from all over the world coming to campus for makeup Commencement ceremonies delayed by the pandemic. On seven Mondays, they marched on campus in waves of flowing purple gowns, making up for lost time and moving forward with pure exhilaration.

Tana Cary (left) and a team from Community Impact traveled to Buckeye, Arizona, to deliver a truckload of household goods to Salima Kalonji (right), a refugee from Congo. (Photo by Ralph Freso)


John Herold

GCU CityServe wraps arms around those in need

It’s not often you get to meet someone as incredible as Salima Kalonji. The refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo escaped the violence of her home country, where her husband was killed, and came to America, where she often works 90 hours a week. Her dream was to have a home of her own, and she recently purchased a house furnished in large part by GCU CityServe. And she’s just one person GCU is helping. Executive Director Jay Cory said it best about GCU CityServe: “This is going to be HUGE. We’re going to change the world.”

GCU student honors brother at ROTC 9/11 event

Most of GCU’s incoming students in 2021 weren’t even born when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks changed everything. Twenty years removed from that national tragedy, the fear is that the next generation will forget the impact of that day. John Herold reminded them. The GCU online student’s brother, Gary, died while helping co-workers evacuate from the 98th floor of the World Trade Center's South Tower.

Alexis Prater 

Joplin tornado survivor aided by GCU now a student

“The good you do comes back to you …” I ponder that quote when I think about Alexis Prater, who was just 8 years old when she survived the powerful EF5 tornado that destroyed her hometown of Joplin, Missouri. It would turn out to be the deadliest tornado to strike the United States since the 1940s, killing more than 160 people. When Aaron Johnson heard about the devastation to his hometown, he quickly spearheaded a GCU relief effort to help families who had nothing. Alexis would never forget those kindnesses and enrolled at GCU 10 years later.

Mike Loven (center) celebrated his graduation from GCU with (from left) daughter-in-law Annie, wife Carrie, daughter Taleigh and son Austin.


Grad's diploma surprises family to the nth degree

When we first heard Mike Loven's story, we couldn't believe it. Wait a minute. Do you mean to tell me he worked toward a degree for more than four years without ever telling his family? As it turned out, the best part of all in doing this story – besides the fact that it's so hilarious – was listening to Loven cackle as he recounted how he pulled it off.

The team of Grand Canyon University students put together the TEDxGCU program after months of COVID-19 challenges.

TEDxGCU verifies students' pandemic perseverance

What those students did to pull off that event was astounding. They didn't know until the last minute where, or even whether, they would be able to stage it. And then they produced a masterpiece. It's the ultimate you-had-to-be-there story. Most amazing was the students' ability to earn donations from sponsors. “Pitching who we are and what we have to offer to get thousands and thousands of dollars of value is not an easy task, especially as 18-, 20- and 21-year-olds,” said Havilah Houston, the group's president this year. “But here we are.”

Chris Brown

Brown's return to Chapel is charged with emotion

The simple fact that Chris Brown was back at Chapel was enough of a gift – the guy is an incredible speaker. But he's also a class act. His humble thank-you note for this story certainly wasn't expected ... just like the asides and one-liners he drops into every talk. As an added bonus, he was a Chapel speaker again this fall, and this shouldn't surprise anyone: He's as warm one-on-one as he is fiery onstage.

Christine Collins provided care for many children at a free clinic in Farah, Afghanistan.


GCU grad recalls her time as nurse in Afghanistan

Every memory Christine Collins had of her time as a military nurse in Afghanistan all came flooding back when she saw the news coverage of the country’s fall to the Taliban earlier this year. The nursing graduate worked long and hard to get her degree, and she used it to help as many people as she could. The moral of her story: Don’t take the little things in life for granted.

Dr. Shakta Man Ghale 

What a journey: There was danger in this doctorate

GCU’s first International doctoral learner, Dr. Shakta Man Ghale, had quite the journey to completing his Doctor of Business Administration program. The Nepal native had to survive earthquakes, leeches and days of travel by foot just to collect his data, on top of struggling with constant power and electricity issues. In 2021, Ghale wrapped up his seven-year doctoral journey and gets to start the next the next phase in his life – using his degree to give back to the people of Nepal.

Dr. Craig Detweiler (Photo by Ralph Freso)

New dean brings diverse background to Fine Arts

College of Fine Arts and Production Dean Dr. Craig Detweiler had long been told that there was no way he could maintain both his love for the arts and his faith. But the writer, director and educator has spent his career doing just that. It’s a skill that made Detweiler the perfect candidate for his new role at GCU. As he so memorably said upon his arrival on campus, “We can both enlighten and entertain at the same time.”

GCU men's basketball coach Bryce Drew speaks at the memorial service for Oscar Frayer.


4 Ever: Ceremony pays tribute to Frayer

From a championship net-cutting image of him posted in the GCU locker room to his "High Flyer" silhouette on tribute T-shirts, Oscar Frayer has not and will not be forgotten since his untimely March death. The most poignant tribute took place in the GCU Basketball Facility, where he loved to be on a campus he called home. Touching tributes from all walks of GCU life paid honor to the spirit of Frayer's life.

Asbjorn Midtgaard (Photo by David Kadlubowski)

Turning point lit Midtgaard's flame at 14

Had Asbjorn Midtgaard proved to be a one-year backup on a good GCU basketball team, he would have been fondly remembered for his work ethic and amiable way. But transferring to GCU put him in prominence and the pros and lifted the Lopes to the Big Dance. Midtgaard's path is all the more fascinating when it is rewound with his parents and the Denmark coach who kept him from quitting.

Ethan Harris

Rejections sent Harris to new heights

One of the best high jumpers in the nation goes to GCU. That's interesting enough without knowing that Ethan Harris never meant to be that. Harris' story provides lessons in perseverance and faith. His dreams for another sport were rejected time and again, only to lead him to a better fit, and his faith connection to the GCU campus is what brought him back as a student without the "-athlete" part.


"Raising Havoc”

This photo was taken during a women’s volleyball match leading up to Lope-A-Palooza and for me illustrates the raw emotion and passion the Havocs bring to any of GCU’s athletics events, always creating a home-court advantage.

"Happy Havoc in a hammock"

This photo was taken during the annual Camp Elliott event. I love this photo because it’s just so odd. As I was covering the turnout of students camping out for the best seats to Midnight Madness, I noticed a “Lopes Up” sign raise up from a student nestled in a cocoon-like sleeping shelter hammock. Definitely got my attention.

"A merge at 'Emerge'"

This recent photo taken during the “Emerge” dance concert rehearsal has become one of my favorites. I love the flowing lines of their bodies as one dancer emerges from the other while the rim light plays perfectly against the negative space of the frame.


Related content: GCU mourns passing of Oscar Frayer 

GCU Today: GCU CityServe officially opens distribution center

GCU Today: Grateful SIS scholarship recipients warm Arena


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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

(Moses addressed Israel, reminding them of God's deliverance of them from Egypt, and His commands given to them:) "You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the miraculous signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out (from bondage and delivered you.). The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear." (Deuteronomy 7:19)

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