Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow
David Harrington walked to the exit amid rattling cowbells, kazoos and cheers from a tunnel of students.
He was asked why he wanted to attend Grand Canyon University.
“It’s my favorite college,” he said over the cacophony, before cracking a sly grin. “And it was the cheapest around.”
One reason it was inexpensive is because Harrington had just won a full-tuition Students Inspiring Students scholarship, awarded to high-achieving students from families in need in the neighborhoods surrounding GCU. Thirty-seven more high school seniors were surprised with the announcement on Friday, bringing the year’s new scholarship class to 60 and the total to 710 since the program started in 2016.
“My family isn’t rich,” he said. “There’s too many kids.”
“I’m in the middle, the upper middle,” he said. “And my family is helping my older brother with college in California.”
His mom, Lori Harrington, was waiting at the door.
“We adopted nine, and he is one of the nine,” she said, adding that she worried how they would all be educated. “We just take it one day at a time.
“But David was like, ‘I need to go to college. I’m tired of sharing a room.’”
Harrington worked hard toward his goal at Shadow Ridge High School in Surprise, dreaming of his upcoming days in a University apartment with his own room.
And studying business management toward his ultimate dream: “I want to own my own business one day.”
The determination of SIS recipients is on full display every spring. For the second straight year, the average grade point average of recipients is 4.1.
And many in this latest group are like Harrington, seeking careers in the high-demand jobs that they hope leads to less worry about sharing rooms in a future family.
Forty-five percent of the 60 recipients plan to attend the College of Science, Engineering and Technology and 27% the Colangelo College of Business.
“I wasn’t surprised,” said Cinthia Monge, SIS Program Manager. “These students understand the industries they want to pursue. They have very clear goals in mind, and CSET and business programs are the future.”
The emotions ran high as recipients were joined by family, led to believe they were hearing more information about the University. They were asked to close their eyes and think of what brought them to this room, as current SIS students rushed to the front to hold up signs and pop out streamers as they opened their eyes.
Two students near the front of the room squealed and embraced.
Jonathan Alejandro Quiroz offered to tell the group earlier in the evening what working toward the scholarship meant to him, mainly the volunteer hours he put in as part of the process.
“It allowed me to get around the city and see a lot of smiles,” he said.
The person Quiroz embraced was Ximena Villavicencio, his girlfriend.
Family members said they worked so hard on homework from Raymond S. Kellis High School in Glendale that they had to sacrifice family celebrations.
The couple decided together that they would seek out an education at GCU. They carpooled together to volunteer opportunities. They stayed up some nights until 1 a.m. putting the fine details on their scholarship applications.
“It was definitely a community effort,” Villavicencio said.
And they made a pact as the day drew near to finding out about the scholarship.
“We had a conversation. What if one of us gets it and the other doesn’t?” she said. “Well, we decided we’ll just be happy for the other one. It’s the journey that mattered.”
So when they heard the announcement, they were loud and exuberant. Villavicencio is seeking an education in pre-medicine and one day wants to be a pediatrician. Quiroz will study computer engineering.
“It means everything to my family,” he said. “All the worries were on me on how to pay for it. That really takes a toll. But having this opportunity is amazing.”
The stories of hope for a better future are the heartbeat of these announcements.
“It’s been an honor to work with every single one of them,” Monge said. “Helping them through the process I have learned their stories, about their families and their personal ambitions, and why it’s important for them to receive the scholarship.”
For Alexis Cayetano Cota, it was the atmosphere. The Carl Hayden Community High School senior he could have gone to another college on a track scholarship but was lured by the sense of community and the fun he saw on GCU’s campus. And his future goal of a profession in sports medicine fit perfectly with GCU’s mission.
“I like helping others,” he said.
They didn’t all leap exuberantly at the announcement.
Emily Sanchez of Sunnyslope High School sat quietly with her mother, a tear rolling down her cheek.
“All the hard work I did was worth it,” she said.
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.