Photos by Ralph Freso Slideshow
They arrived at campus as new college students on Wednesday morning, filed into the Antelope Gym auditorium at Grand Canyon University and looked intently at a compact professor named Dr. Brandon Juarez. He awakened four hours earlier to work out.
Eleven days before, Juarez was in the Boulder Ironman 70.3 on the third-leg run, fighting to go on after swimming and biking dozens of miles already. That’s when he looked down to his arm, where he had scrawled his children's names.
As Students Inspiring Students (SIS) scholarship recipients, these incoming freshmen know of hardship or financial need; they know about uphill climbs as children of immigrants or first-generation college students.
As a triathlete, Juarez said he knew of two firm goals: First, do what it takes to finish, even if it’s walking, hobbling, crawling to the finish line.
“But there was another goal that any endurance athlete has. And that is making it to the start,” he said.
“It takes months of dedication, preparation, flat tires. It takes time away from family. It takes nutrition and planning. In the same way, you all have done a tremendous amount in persisting. In writing papers, in investing your time and dedicating yourself to something that you know in the future is going to pay off.
“All of you this morning have made it to the starting line.”
This day-long seminar was the starting gun of information and motivation. To paraphrase SIS and External Scholarships Director Megan Serafani, it gave SIS students a chance to know the course before the run, so they don’t want to quit.
As for Juarez, why did he even put himself through the pain?
“To prove to myself I can,” he said. “But also to prove a lot of people right.”
You mean prove them wrong?
“In this case, its about proving people right,” he said. “Today, as you start your college program and enter college life, you have people who have prayed for you, you have people who have toiled for you to be in this position. And you have the opportunity to honor them to prove them right.”
He asked the 92 students attending the seminar to recall that person in their life. He calls them “why people.” When you’re at 5,000 feet of elevation and it’s 90 degrees and you’re sunburned and tired, they are the people you turn to. That’s when he looks at the names of his kids on his arm, who he wants to show about striving and never giving up, and who have been there to support him.
The ‘why’ people
“Definitely my mom,” SIS student Kaitlyn Cotter said of her mother, Heather.
“We’ve been through a lot. We moved here from California after my dad and her split. So she’s been through a lot for me as a single mom, finding a career and pushing me to go to college because she didn’t go to college.”
She wants to be an educator to teach physical education and coach.
“My ‘why’ was my high school theatre teacher,” SIS student Angela Chaires said of Megan Dunklee at Carl Hayden High School.
“I don’t have parent or family support, and she was my support during my high school career. She was the one who told me, ‘Do it.’ She was right there with me when I applied. She was even there when I did my hours. Even now she is still pushing me.”
Chaires wants to study biomedical engineering.
“My father motivated me to come to GCU as a first-generation student,” SIS student Aurora Bobinac said of her father, Christopher.
“He worked really hard. He’s an electrician who was always self-employed. But in order to help me with my tuition, he got a full-time job for more pay in case I needed money. That just shows how much he cares.
“I have a job and I’m trying to be self-sufficient, but it if doesn’t work out he is there to help me. He put a lot of effort into showing me and motivating me to go to college.”
Bobinac wants to study cybersecurity.
Juarez, who not only finished his Ironman but ranked 356th out of thousands of participants, asked the students to put the name of their “why” person in their calendars on Sept. 6 when classes begin and on Dec. 12 when they approach final exams, when it gets hard and they are on the last leg and want to give up.
“You see, you are not just doing this thing called college for yourself,” he said. “You are doing it for the people who paid it forward for you. You represent those people when you are here.
“You get an opportunity today. It starts today for the next four years. And I hope that you think about these people when it gets hard.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.