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Emily Gerlach, Advocate for Accessibility and Mental Health Named Class of 2022 Valedictorian

Emily Gerlach

Emily Gerlach is a student who thrives by advocating for herself and others. As she began her college journey at South Mountain Community College in 2019, she was one of many students who spent the majority of their education online due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Rising above many challenges, her perseverance, focus, and career goals led her to become the Class of 2022 Valedictorian.

Having lived in Arizona for almost four years after moving from New Jersey, she found community while attending SMCC.

After graduating from Horizon Honors High School, Gerlach decided to major in Behavioral Health Sciences (BHS), a program that supported her in finding her calling to pursue a career as a psychologist.

“The BHS program at SMCC created a small network of friends and community for me,” said Gerlach. “I felt I could talk to my classmates, professors like Dr. William Beverly, and friends from the BHS Club, where I found connection and support during school, even if it was primarily online.”

Gerlach shared her goal is to open her own private practice to create a space with accessibility for everyone. Diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy before birth, she learned to advocate for herself and her access during her childhood.

“My disability has made me very vocal,” said Gerlach, “it taught me to advocate for myself and to help others become their own advocate to help build a strong community from within.”

Gerlach cites the primary reasons she chose SMCC was the campus design, and the access for students with disabilities, as she found SMCC to be one of the few colleges to have an “evacuation plan for people like her.”

Emily Gerlach

With the goal to open her private practice in the future, Gerlach explains she wants her space to be flexible and accessible for everyone, including herself.

“During the Ability Maricopa Convocation, the student speaker shared data that really resonated with me,” said Gerlach, “including mentioning that people with disabilities are twice as likely to open their own businesses.”

Gerlach found guidance in her educational journey with professors such as Dr. Beverly, campus counselors, and Catherine Pettet, SMCC’s Director of Disability Resources and Services. Gerlach was also awarded the President’s Honors Scholarship from the Honors Program, and was a recipient of the Chancellor’s Award.

Becoming Valedictorian for her class culminates years of hard work and dedication. Her time in the BHS program, and the close community cemented her goal to become a therapist who “helps people grow into themselves.”

Gerlach will be graduating with four degrees – an Associates of Applied Science (AAS) Behavioral Science, Associates in Arts (AA) and AGEC-A; a Certificate of Completion (CCL) Advanced Behavioral Health Science (BHS); and a Certificate of Completion (CCL) Basic Behavioral Health Science (BHS).

Gerlach will also be staying at the SMCC campus after graduation, as she will continue her Bachelor’s Degree through the 90/30 Northern Arizona University (NAU) program. She hopes to eventually continue on to her Master’s Degree, as it will get her closer to her goal of owning her own private practice.

Her final message to her classmates is to reassure them that “having a healthy amount of fear is okay because it creates courage to make anything happen.”

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