Monday, May 6, 2019

Reflections of 2019 Commencement

Collage of graduation photos featuring students at May 2 commencement ceremony

A record number of Valley high school students and a mother and son who are completing their degree programs simultaneously were among the class of 2019 college graduates who celebrated at Rio Salado College’s commencement ceremony at Comerica Theatre in Phoenix on Thursday, May 2, 2019.

Interim Rio Salado President Kate Smith
with Dual Enrollment Grads
Among the 200+ graduates in attendance were approximately 103 dual enrollment students, who represent the 187 high school students who have earned or on track to earn associate degrees during the 2018-2019 academic year. Students attend Deer Valley, Heritage, Brophy College Prep, Desert Vista, Horizon, Mountain Pointe and Xavier College Prep in the Phoenix metropolitan area and Corona del Sol, McClintock and Tempe high schools in Tempe. 

“We had just one dual enrollment graduate seven years ago,” said EJ Anderson, director of Rio Salado College’s dual enrollment program. “Today, no other college in the state has as many dual students or graduates.”

Rio Salado serves approximately 7,000 dual enrollment students at 37 Valley high schools, providing in-person, college-level instruction at each school so students can get a jump start on earning college credits, certificates and degrees.

Anderson says teachers and parents have played a key role. “Parents are usually the ones to convince students to take advantage of the cost savings, seamless university transfer options, time savings and other benefits of our dual enrollment programs.” Dual enrollment credits transfer to Arizona public colleges and many colleges and universities across the country.

Dylan Dixon
Among the Tempe McClintock High School dual enrollment students was Dylan Mitcham who is on track to earn an associate of arts and associate of science in general studies this summer.

“My mom convinced me and we both thought it would be a great opportunity,” said Mitcham. “I’ve been able to get my degree very early. It also means I don’t have to take that many classes at college – all around it’s pretty awesome.”

Mitcham is also a Rio Salado Achieving a College Education (ACE) Youth Scholar, a program designed to help high school students-- who may not otherwise have the means to attend college-- prepare for and succeed in their academic pursuits.

“Dylan could not have done this without the ACE Puente scholarship,” said Mitcham’s mother, Gigi Dixon Mitcham. “From the moment that they accepted his essay… amazing things were happening and will continue to happen.”

“I’m pretty proud of myself,” said Mitcham, who plans to attend Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering as a computer science major. “I’m glad that I was smart enough to take that opportunity because it’s really helped me, especially with my computer science degree that I’m planning on getting. Since I already have the associate (degree) I’m basically halfway done toward a bachelor’s, so I have extra time and don’t have to spend so much on college.”

Gigi Dixon Mitcham and Dylan Mitcham
Mitcham attended the graduation ceremony with his mother, who is also on track to earn her Associate of Arts in General Studies this summer. Dixon Mitcham said she was inspired to return to school because of her son. “I thought it would be wonderful to have that experience together and to graduate together.”

Dixon Mitcham has been teaching K-5 reading intervention at Tempe’s Nevitt Elementary School for the last ten years and has enjoyed a lifelong career as a musician.

“I was a full-time musician my whole life up until I worked at Nevitt… playing 5 nights a week-- traveling around the country, recording out in Nashville and writing songs… piano, guitar, singing—all of it,” said Dixon Mitcham, who still performs once a month at the San Tan Flats. “I’ve had quite a life, which makes me more proud to finish this part of it, or have this be a stepping stone for more education.”

She said Rio Salado’s Dual Enrollment Early College Success Coach Robert Brown “played a great role in motivating me and keeping me on track and helping me register for the right courses.”

“This is one of those memorable graduations,” said Brown. “I normally work exclusively with high school students, and this year I had the honor and privilege to help this family reach their educational goals together.”
“We feel extremely blessed to be part of this family and part of Rio Salado and the ACE Puente program,” said Dixon Mitcham. “I just don’t know where we would be without it right now. And because of Dylan being part of it, he encouraged me at my age to finish something I started many decades ago. My road led me to a different place but I ended up back here with my son which is amazing. It’s heartwarming.”
Dixon shares a great deal in common with other Rio Salado students, many of whom are parents, working full-time and returning to school to get ahead and be good role models for their kids. Her advice to adults who are considering returning to school: “Go for it. Don’t be afraid. Learn you must. I’m sure that’s a quote by Yoda from Star Wars. And as I like to say to all my students at the elementary school, you are smarter than you think. That is my mantra; you are smarter than you think-- in every situation.”

Snapshot of story on web site, featuring photo of Gigi and Dylan dressed in cap and gown.  Text: Mother, son graduate college together in Phoenix

This Arizona Family 3TV CBS 5 story by reporter Spencer Blake provides some additional insights about the Mitcham family’s educational journey.

Gigi and Dylan Mitcham represented nearly 2,500 Arizona graduates and more than 100 graduates from across the country who are expected to earn more than 3,000 degrees, certificates and credentials from Rio Salado College during the 2018-19 year*.

For more details about Rio Salado’s dual enrollment program, visit

Check out the first set of commencement photos by visiting this Facebook album. You will also have an opportunity to purchase images from GradImages. Photo proofs will be available at

A big thank you to all the graduates, guests, faculty and staff who helped to make Thursday’s graduation ceremony a magical, memorable night. We are so proud of you, #RioGrad #Classof2019—and honored to be of service to you and your family. We admire your perseverance and commitment to higher learning. Congratulations!

*FY2018-19 awards data as of April 30, 2019.