Family, friends, classmates, faculty, and others celebrated the graduation of more than 300 Yavapai College students during the 52nd Commencement ceremony held at Findlay Toyota Center in Prescott Valley on Sunday, May 8.

Students convened to accept their degrees and certificates, bestowed by Yavapai College District Governing Board Chair and YC alumna Deb McCasland, on Mother’s Day.

Yavapai College Associate Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Tania Sheldahl – also a graduate of YC – opened the ceremony.

Dr. Diane Ryan, Yavapai College Vice President of Academic Affairs, welcomed the graduates, faculty, family and friends before introducing keynote speaker and YC alumna April Rhodes, President and CEO of Spectrum Healthcare Group.

Rhodes, a member of the Yavapai College Foundation Board of Directors, congratulated the class of 2022 graduates on their perseverance, noting the difficulty of her own journey. “When I started at YC almost 15 years ago, as a single mom of two young children, I never imagined what that would lead to,” Rhodes recounted. “I was just intent on building a better life for those kids. Modeling for them a better way. I saw education as the path to making that happen. But it felt so out of reach at the time.”

Rhodes exhorted the graduates to view their collective accomplishments not as an ending, but as a beginning. “Today, we are celebrating a milestone, not a finish line,” said Rhodes. “Challenge yourself to the next thing, to reach higher. You can always find another gear. Even when it feels like you can’t keep moving. Success is not final.”

Yavapai College Chemistry instructor Dr. Paul Smolenyak addressed YC graduates on behalf of the faculty, “Don’t limit yourself to your original plans, be open to the opportunities that present themselves along your journey,” said Smolenyak.

Student speaker Heather Dodson warned fellow graduates off of the fear and act of failure. “When we experience failure, we like to mark it off with red tape; we close off that whole section and say, ‘we can no longer go over there,’ and ‘we can no longer touch that,’ because we failed,” Dodson said. “However, where there is a failure, success becomes a realization. And that awareness of accomplishment may not happen the moment you are unsuccessful. That clarity may not appear for days, weeks, or even years.”

Yavapai College President Dr. Lisa Rhine took to the podium after graduates crossed the stage to accept their degrees and certificates. “Throughout your educational journey, and especially over the last few years, all of you have found the strength to persevere under trying circumstances,” said Rhine.

“What we now know about ourselves is that, no matter what challenges may come our way, we have the strength to prevail. I can’t tell you what you will confront in the years ahead, but I can tell you that, no matter what you confront, it will not outstrip your capacity to deal with it.”

Videos of the Verde Valley and Prescott Commencement ceremonies are available to view online at