Richland Community College will hold its 49th Annual Commencement Ceremony at 7 p.m. Friday, May 13, at the Decatur Civic Center. Prior to commencement, the Health Professions pinning will be held at 5 p.m. in the auditorium of the Civic Center.

This year’s featured speakers include: 

Student Speaker – Rhiannon Hartman
Rhiannon Hartman has been chosen by a committee comprised of students, faculty, and staff to speak at this year’s ceremony. Rhiannon is 20 years old and has attended Richland to pursue a degree in history education in order to become a high school history teacher. Rhiannon graduated from Eisenhower High school and plans to continue her education at Millikin University. While at Richland, Rhiannon was very active and served as Student Trustee on the Board of Trustees and was active in student leadership on campus. Rhiannon has served as a great example to other students by talking very openly about being a queer person in addition to battling mental illness. Rhiannon says, “I am so grateful for the opportunities I have been offered through Richland, the professors and staff have helped me to grow as a student and as a member of my community.”

Guest Speaker – Brian Byers

Brian Byers is the Vice President of Development for Neuhoff Media and the host of Byers & Co. Byers & Co, a weekday morning staple at WSOY1340AM/ 103.3FM and Decatur, Illinois’ number one rated program for 25 years. Byers is a three-time winner of the prestigious NAB Marconi Award for excellence in broadcasting and has won over 25 Illinois Broadcasters Association Silver Dome Awards including Broadcaster of the Year, Best Morning Team and Best Community Service. Byers work for area charities also earned WSOY three prestigious National Association of Broadcasters Crystal Awards for excellence in community service. Byers & Co. has directly generated ​$17 million in goods and funds for local charities for the past ​25 years. Byers has served on numerous boards and commissions, including the Decatur Parks Foundation, Decatur Public Schools Foundation and The United Way.

The Distinguished Alumnus of the Year and Faculty of the Year will also be recognized at this year’s event:

2022 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year – Dominique Bates-Smith

Dominique Bates-Smith graduated from Richland Community College in 2018 with a degree in Journalism. She then went on to Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, to obtain a bachelor’s degree in communication. During her time in college, Dominique exhibited leadership and engagement within her extracurricular activities by being involved in the media club, newspaper publications, and reporting for the football team. Dominique has since taken her journalism and communication skills and put them to work.

Dominique is currently working part-time at Neuhoff media as a producer in addition to working full-time for the Faith Coalition for the Common Good as a community organizer.

Dominique spends her time outside of her career working with different community organizations to make a true difference. She works with the Transformation Justice Task Force in Springfield and is currently working to build a Transformation Justice Task Force in Decatur. She also works with the Pretrial Fairness Act with the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice and with SIMP Inc. as a Youth Development Leader.

Dominique’s personal experience regarding racism, has sparked the creation her non-profit organization “Walk it Like We Talk It.” Dominique is showing true leadership and working to evoke change in her community. Dominique says, “Today, I can proudly say that I no longer stand in the background. I am up front, demanding equality, equity, and respect for all. I saw that my community needed to change, and I chose not to sit back and let change happen, but instead to be part of a group that makes change happen.”

Faculty of the Year – Dr. Laurie Hughes
Laurie Hughes received her Doctorate of Philosophy in English from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She has served as a full-time instructor of English and Humanities for more than 20 years at Richland. She is well known for her dedication to students, high standards and innovative instructional delivery. She challenges students to strive for excellence in academics and beyond and fosters and reflects inquisitiveness and passion for her field and pedagogy.

Dr. Hughes leads and serves by mentoring faculty during the tenure process, and as co-director of the Honors Program. She is committed to continuous improvement in and outside the classroom. In 2021, she, along with Professor Rosemarie King, secured a grant from the University of Illinois to redesign Humanities 100 to increase the depth of content exploration. In the classroom, Dr. Hughes infuses new technologies such as NearPod, a tool that makes any lesson interactive whether in the classroom or virtual, to enhance student engagement and provides students with intense tutorial opportunities individually and in small groups.

Dr. Hughes’ contributions to the College include participation on the Online Quality Assurance Review Committee, Student Learning Outcomes Assessment Committee, and the Calendar Committee.

The graduation ceremony can be viewed live on Richland’s YouTube Channel: