Sometimes a moment comes along that elicits so many emotions that tears and goosebumps just don’t cut it. Reverence. Grief. Loss. Reflection. Acknowledgement. Admiration. Accomplishment. Glory. These fleeting moments are memories burned forever into the collective consciousness of the group of people witnessing them.
The Grand Canyon University commencement ceremony, held on April 19, opened with one of those moments. The commencement audience stood and applauded when Bionca Sparrow, the mother of Oscar Frayer, was joined by Oscar’s nine-year-old nephew, E.J. Harris, to accept Oscar’s diploma on the commencement podium. The senior had earned a degree in Communications.
Frayer was forced to miss the 2019-20 season due to academic ineligibility, a low point in an otherwise stellar collegiate career for the Antelopes. First-year head coach Bryce Drew invited Frayer to rejoin the team the following year, when he became eligible again. Frayer made it clear his return to GCU wasn’t solely about basketball — it was about fulfilling a promise he made to his mother: that he would earn his college degree. After receiving all As and Bs in his final two semesters, Frayer accomplished that feat, becoming the first male on his mom’s side of the family to receive a college education. It should have been a crowning achievement in a young man’s life, his family by his side, ready to take the next step into the wilder world.
Instead, it was a bittersweet moment for a grieving mother and family who had everything torn away from them in an instant. Four weeks prior, Frayer, his sister Andrea Frayer-Moore, and friend Caley Bringmann passed away in a car accident in Lodi, California. Andrea left behind four sons, E.J being the oldest. The accident came three days after Frayer fulfilled another life-long dream: playing in the NCAA Tournament, where the Antelopes gave No. 2 Iowa all it could handle before eventually falling 86-74.
Frayer was immortalized with an appearance in CBS’s One Shining Moment Video, the network’s annual video celebrating the NCAA Tournament. You can find him making a signature play at 1:35 in the video.
RIP Oscar Frayer.— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) April 6, 2021
He made it in One Shining Moment. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/3lYJRcG6VK
Monday’s ceremony allowed the high-flying Frayer to bring the Grand Canyon students to their feet one final time. GCU Arena PA announcer Paul Danuser introduced Frayer’s name with his signature high-flyer introduction, as if he was stepping onto the court wearing the purple, black, and white. His mother walked up the stage with her hand on her heart, then motioned the sign of the cross and gestured her hand towards the heavens as she accepted her son’s degree to raucous ovation from his fellow graduates.
Oscar Frayer’s mother, Bionca Sparrow, and his nephew, E.J. Harris, accepted Frayer’s diploma at GCU commencement today. Frayer, his sister Andrea Frayer-Moore and his friend Caley Bringmann died in a car crash on March 23, three days after GCU’s first NCAA tournament game. pic.twitter.com/umMinvYedb— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) April 19, 2021
Drew admired Bionca’s strength and what that moment meant to them.
“She is such a strong woman, and she knows that she raised a great son, and he did so many great things in his 23 years,” he said. “I think she also sees the vision of the family, and that’s why she wanted her family there, and she wanted her grandkids here so they could see this moment, feel this moment and motivate them to be successful like Oscar.”
You can also find Frayer’s name scattered around the GCU record books. He started 107 games (third-most in program history), ranks fourth on the school’s all-time scoring list, and holds the program record for blocks in the D-I era (97). Frayer helped lead the Lopes in the final year of the program’s Division I transition period, and he helped the Lopes win their first WAC Championship, earning the school its first NCAA Tournament berth.
Through the grief and bitterness of these somber, solemn moments, a ray of hope can still shine. Because of his accomplishments, GCU created the Oscar Frayer Spirit Award, which will be awarded to the GCU athlete that best emulates Frayer’s spirit of uplifting and engaging the team, and spreading love to the GCU community.
Frayer’s legacy will live on off the court in one more way, too. He had given everything to Grand Canyon University, and his loyalty and ability allowed him to pave his own path at the school, leaving a clearer, greener path for the rest of his family to follow.
After the ceremony, university president Brian Mueller spoke to the local media:
“We will give his nieces and nephews a full scholarship if they want to attend GCU when they’re of age and meet the admissions requirements,” Mueller said. “I’m hoping that will give (Bionca) some feeling that some good is going to come out of this, that they have something to look forward to. She says all the time, ‘Oscar loved Grand Canyon University.’ He really loved this place, and our student body loved him.”
The Grand Canyon basketball team stood to the side at the ceremony and took in the special moment for their teammate. Frayer’s roommate, Sean Miller-Moore, stressed that you have to look for the good in the bad, saying that “this is all he wanted, so really it’s a celebration. He would want us to be celebrating.”
With four grandchildren to raise, there is a GoFundMe to help Bionca Sparrow. Grand Canyon is also selling t-shirts, with 100% of the profits going towards the family.