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45% of GCU's largest graduating class are first-generation grads in their family

Posted at 10:19 PM, Apr 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-23 01:19:40-04

PHOENIX — It's the kickoff to commencement season. ABC15 attended Grand Canyon University’s commencement ceremony on Friday.

Just over 30,000 students graduated GCU after taking classes on campus and online. We are told, of that big number, 43% are first-time college graduates in their family.

"If I am being completely honest, the feeling is indescribable,” said Luis Pena-Espinosa, who enrolled at GCU thanks in part to a scholarship.

He says, on graduation day, he feels the same as he did four years ago.

"I was shocked. I could not believe I just got a scholarship to pay for my whole education. I come from a background where I don't have money. My parents don't have resources,” added Pena-Espinosa.

The graduate majored in computer science.

His family, along with others, were welcomed inside the school's arena to watch GCU’s largest graduating class, ever, receive their degrees.

"In one of the ceremonies, I referenced a couple of years ago, we were six feet apart and we were wearing masks. It just wasn't the same,” said President Brian Mueller.

Mueller, the school's president since 2008, is proud of the fact 130,000 students have graduated the school in the last five years.

"The whole supply and demand thing and labor force has flipped. There has never been a better time for first-generation college students to get into college and graduate because the opportunities in the workplace are tremendous,” added Mueller.

Pena-Espinosa reflects on the big moment.

"It's incredible. I come from a really big family. My dad has 13 siblings. My mom has eight. So, I have a lot of aunts, uncles, and cousins,” added Pena-Espinosa.

What they've missed, Pena-Espinosa says, is an example.

"For me, coming here the last four years, isn't just me graduating and doing something for myself. It's me setting the example, “ added Pena-Espinosa.

In addition to Pena-Espinosa walking the stage, the families of two GCU students killed in a recent crash, also walked to accept their late loved ones' degrees.