Welcome Crew puts the 'Woohoo!' in arrival

Welcome Crew members greet incoming GCU students and families on the first day of Move-In.

Photos by Ralph Freso

You know you have arrived at Grand Canyon University when you get yelled at that you are loved.

“We get to scream at people but also encourage them,” said Madelyn Hendrikse, a student Welcome Crew volunteer, last seen literally running alongside a car to talk to freshmen arriving on campus for Move-In on Monday. “You are wanted here!

Welcome Crew members greet incoming GCU students and family during Move in Day on Aug. 29, 2022.

“But finding that balance is the hard part. It’s easy to go crazy all the time. But go crazy and turn it off when those moms are crying in the car.”

That’s as good a training statement as any for the celebratory greeters on the crew of nearly 600 volunteers injecting enthusiasm to arriving families dropping off children for college during Welcome Week.

The greeters – they should be called the Woohoo Crew – are stationed across campus in teams of purple shirts, bright hats, smiles and a lot of yelling, “Yeeeaaaahhh! Wooohoooo!”

Welcome Programs Manager Alden Sia said the crew is a hybrid model of the Move-In experience of pre-pandemic years, when a large throng welcomed in students and cars to unload. The growing campus of more than 25,000 ground students necessitated move-ins by appointment, so Welcome Programs employed teams across campus to inject enthusiasm into many of a record 9,700 new students getting their first taste of what makes GCU special.

Having students holler and wave signs, such as “Live, Laugh, Lope,” brought many smiles from the cars packed with parents and boxes.

Justin Kocher just tries to make the Move-In arrival "as pleasurable as possible."

“I think they’ve done a great job. And out all day in the hot sun,” said Sia, holding a bullhorn since rising at 3 a.m.

Like Justin Kocher, big and tall and wearing a bucket hat, jumping up and down. He’s trying to turn it on for what he calls the “sleepers” in the back seat. “I don’t need a smile back. But I figure I will make this as pleasurable as possible.”

He joined Hendrikse and a group of a dozen to the north of Juniper Field who stood along the roadway, pointing, dancing, making faces at the car’s inhabitants who drove from far and wide to get here.

The Welcome Crew experience had Abby Edwards (left) and Maddie Green dancing.

“I like that students’ names are on the windshield,” said Maddie Green. “You yell their name, and you can just see the joy on their faces.”

Abby Edwards hasn't forgotten the anxiety she felt when she first arrived on campus.

They remember how hard it was for them in that backseat.

“Last year, I had lots of anxiety. Moving in. Moving away from home,” said Abby Edwards. “So it was nice when I was coming in, seeing people cheering. There is that energy they are looking forward to on the campus.”

Hendrikse wasn’t content to just holler. She literally jogged alongside the car to talk to moms and students in the back seat. Wearing a bandana, glitter on her face and sandals, she yelled into open car windows, “You raised him for this! He’ll do good!”

“Students are nervous, so you hear everything,” she said. “I just had one, ‘Dude, I am so nervous.” And I’m like, ‘Dude you have nothing to be nervous about. The Lord loves you and you are here for a reason.’”

Maddie Green takes joy in calling out the arriving students' names.

Some freshmen have the typical embarrassed-by-their-parents thing going on, she continued.

“So it’s reading the car. Sometimes it takes you being the crazy one. You take the embarrassment and worry for them. And they breathe a little bit.

“Look at us. We are already students here. So you can do it.”

It’s a steady stream from her with each passing car:

How did you get this truck? It’s ballin’, dude.

Now, don’t be nervous.

It’s good. I promise you.

There's nothing quite like a GCU welcome.

Many volunteers had little sleep, such as members and coaching staff of the GCU women’s soccer team. They arrived home late from a game in Utah the day before, rose by 4:30 a.m. and stationed themselves at the 29th Avenue entrance to campus to greet new students.

They were among the loudest group, yelling between bites of breakfast burritos.

“It’s cool to see their parents’ faces and see them light up,” said Grace Lee, a communications student who was cheering alongside the soccer team. “They drop off their kids knowing they left them in a good place with good people.”

They can get off the ground, that Welcome Crew.

On the opposite end of campus near the 35th Avenue entrance, the music that is central to the experience and impromptu dance moves was pumping with Flo-Rida: Ayyy, ayyy, welcome to my house.

“They love it. Classic freshmen. Little anxious. Little shy,” said Jonny Harcajo, sort of the master of ceremonies at the entrance, cracking jokes into a microphone. “Then they open the window and realize how hot it is. My gosh. But it’s a great atmosphere.”

"It's the coolest thing about GCU."

Volunteer Erik Yost, on the way GCU welcomes students

The group said they were giving a face to GCU. And that face looked as if it was going downhill on a roller-coaster.

“It’s the coolest thing about GCU,” said Erik Yost, a senior volunteer who comes out every year to welcome new students. “This is what I thrive off of; it’s my extroverted side coming out.

“I remember I was so nervous moving in. One of my best friends now, he came up to the window yelling at me, and we started playing tic-tac-toe on the window. I remember smiling through my tears.

“I get to do that to the freshmen now.”

Walking across campus, in the distance one could hear the eruptions of cheers both near and far, like intermittent Fourth of July fireworks. They erupt over any passing vehicle: “Public Safety! Yeeahh, Public Safety!” Or to GCU President Brian Mueller, walking a hundred yards away, “Brian! Yeahhh. Brian!”

Or just running alongside a car, like Hendrikse, trying to keep up with a car rolling away, yelling at its taillights: “It’s going to be good! It’s going to be good!"

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.

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