SHERIDAN — Sheridan College returned to its roots during the 66th annual commencement ceremony Saturday afternoon as the faculty, graduates and guests in attendance celebrated not only graduates but also veterans for their accomplishments.

Approximately 540 degrees and certificates were earned by Sheridan College students during the 2014-15 school year and many of them, along with those earning High School Equivalency Certificates and bachelor’s and master’s degree candidates, gathered in the Bruce Hoffman Golden Dome to be recognized for the accomplishments.

Along with the recognition of academic prowess, the history of serving veterans resonated throughout the ceremony.

Sheridan College was opened in 1948 in large part to support veterans returning home from World War II. Shortly after the war ended, a GI Bill of Rights was passed to aid the many soldiers coming back who needed an education.

The Sheridan community rose to meet the need of veterans then and has been rising to meet the needs of student veterans since.

Many current and former members of the armed forces were recognized for their service, including keynote speaker Diane Carlson Evans, a former captain in the Army Nurse Corps, who served in the Vietnam War.

Evans is the founder, president and CEO of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Evans served in the Vietnam War at the age of 21 as a member of the Army Nurse Corps from 1968-69, but returned home to a hostile country that didn’t recognize her service, or the service of the many women around her.

After the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial left her with a feeling of unfinished business, Evans made it her mission to have a statue dedicated in D.C. on the grounds near the wall portraying the women of the war. She also set out to identify the women who served and make their stories known to a country that had yet to acknowledge their contributions. After 10 years of arduous labor, she was successful.

“You cannot give up,” Evans told the graduates Saturday afternoon. “Take charge and take risks. Bring your integrity and your work ethic to all that you do. Don’t give up, don’t give in, don’t be a bystander and don’t be afraid of being criticized.

“An anonymous sage said, if you don’t want to be criticized, don’t say anything, don’t do anything and don’t be anything,” she continued. “Don’t be afraid of failing; it’s the way to learn to do things right.”

After 32 years of dedicated service to the Memorial Foundation, Evans will be retiring this Memorial Day.

She stressed to graduates the importance of service and noted that there are thousands of ways to serve our country out of uniform.

“I believe service plays a key role in human happiness and is critical for the achievement of a healthy society,” Evans said. “We live temporarily in what we take from this earth, but we live forever in what we give back.”

As graduates crossed the stage, their names and degrees or certificates were announced, but for veteran students, their prior service was also referenced. For these graduates, it was not just family and friends clapping in the audience but rather thunderous collective cheering and for some even standing ovations.

Two others were celebrated individually in the ceremony as Ken Thorpe was recognized as the Sheridan College Foundation Distinguished Alumnus Award recipient and Tiana Hanson received the President’s Award.

The President’s Award is given each year to a graduating sophomore receiving an associate’s degree with at least a 3.25 grade point average who is also an active member of the college and the community.

“This year’s recipient is the embodiment of what is best at Sheridan College,” said Dr. Paul Young, president of the Northern Wyoming Community College District. “She has shown the ability to work hard, model integrity and lead by example. She is a great example of someone who makes others’ lives better by her attitude and work ethic.”

Hanson is an elementary education major with a perfect GPA of 4.0. Young said she shows the same commitment to her Sheridan College basketball teammates and fellow classmates, is a volunteer with her church, a referee and coach of young athletes at the YMCA and much more.

“This year’s graduating class signifies both our students’ commitment to advancing their education as well as our commitment as a college to prepare them for the increasing demands of skilled, educated employees needed in the workforce,” Young said.