Years after she confidently touted Yavapai College's affordability in commercials that flashed across television and movie theater screens throughout Yavapai County, alumna Ashley Knister still exudes the confidence and positivity gained from seizing opportunities – some that fall in her lap, others she initiates fearlessly.

She's still chasing her dream job – entertaining on stage or screen – with the determination of someone who knows it will happen in time. "I'm comfortable in the spotlight. That's where I want to be," she said during a recent interview.

She's also comfortable waiting her turn. "I have to constantly remind myself that things I want for myself are still a long way away. If I had them now, I don't think I'd be ready. My seeds are being planted," she added, explaining that her current job as an office assistant at AZ-TV in Phoenix is teaching her volumes about the entertainment industry.

Other opportunities to shine are knocking for Ashley. The latest: Selection as the keynote speaker for the Arizona Board of Regents' virtual celebration for 2021 All-Arizona Academic Team scholarship recipients. The speech was streamed live to community colleges across the state, including Yavapai College where student honorees, faculty and staff were especially moved by Ashley's story of courage and perseverance on the rollercoaster ride of college life.

"The world is a reflection of who you choose to be every day. And today, I hope you choose to continuously say yes to the same opportunities that got you here. The world is yours to change, and it all starts here, right now -- on this very foundation you've built with the All-Arizona Academic Scholarship," Ashley said in her celebration remarks.

Ashley's own college thrill ride, she told the audience, started with an on-air talent job at a radio station in Cottonwood, her hometown. The station owner heard the recent high school graduate's voice through a fast-food drive-through speaker and offered her a job practically on the spot. She co-hosted a morning show at the station while attending YC's Verde Valley campus and was recruited by the college's marketing department to star in commercials and marketing publications. And, following in her YC alumna mom Leah Kelly's footsteps, Ashley applied for and won an All-Academic Team Scholarship that made it possible for her to continue her education at Northern Arizona University.

The NAU leg of her college journey almost came to an abrupt halt when she learned, just before her final semester, that she had run out of scholarship money. Problem solved when Ashley summoned the courage to contact the Board of Regents for help. Board Associate Vice President Mark Denke personally answered Ashley's phone call and quickly found a way to erase her NAU debt.

Having stayed in touch with Ashley, Mark nominated the All-Arizona Academic Team alumna from YC to keynote the 2021 team celebration. "The reason I nominated her is obvious in her biography and speech. She is an incredible example of someone who has overcome many obstacles and succeeded as a result of hard work, perseverance and the All-AZ Academic Team award."

Ashley's speech was rife with youthful exuberance and implicit in its message of seizing opportunities and seeking help when hurdles arise.

"…There are a lot of difficulties and obstacles headed your way, especially as you move forward in your education. Life will throw you challenge after challenge, just as it's done through 2020. Choose to be an opportunist," Ashley told her virtual celebration audience after revealing some of her own challenges, including a job loss, a personal battle with COVID-19 and losing loved ones to the disease.

Highlighting the help she received after her panicked call to the Board of Regents, Ashley told her fellow All-AZ scholars: "Please, never be afraid to ask for help. You truly never know who might step up and surprise you."

Ashley started her college journey at YC primarily because it was affordable, but found it offered so much more. "I'm so glad that I started there. Out of high school, you have no idea what to expect from college, but at YC you have smaller class sizes, you're actually seen by your teachers, they actually know your name and they care about your success. The opportunities at YC are so much more than you are going to get anywhere else."

Ashley didn't have a specific career goal at the outset of college – only, as a high school theater teacher advised – "choose what you want to do next." For Ashley, an associate's degree was next. "I knew I could [get the degree] because I could pay for it out of my own pocket," said the 2016 YC grad. At NAU, she studied for a semester in Ireland and earned her bachelor's degree in strategic communication in 2018.

While working full time throughout her college journey, the aspiring entertainer found time to compete in the singing contest circuit across Northern Arizona. She won the 2012 Prescott Idol and the 2015 Northern Arizona's Got Talent crowns, among others. She hopes to get involved in community theater in the Phoenix area when they're up and running again post-COVID, and she continues to voice commercials for Yavapai Broadcasting in Cottonwood.

Until her big break in show business, Ashley is content to learn everything she can about the TV industry and stay committed to achieving her dreams with a wellspring of positivity that belies her age. "I have to keep reminding myself, we are all on our own path," she said. "You've got to do what you can until you get where you need to go."