Commencement Beatriz Rodriguez Dental Assisting OC

Beatriz Rodriguez, a Dental Assisting graduate, congratulated by Dr. Thomas C. Leitzel.

South Florida State College marked the end of the 2016 academic year with its spring term Commencement, May 5, in the SFSC Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts on the Highlands Campus.

This year, on account of the large number of graduates, SFSC honored the recipients of Associate in Arts (AA) and Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education (BSEE) degrees with an afternoon ceremony. Those earning Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management (BAS-SM) degrees, Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees, Associate in Science degrees, occupational and college credit certificates, and State of Florida High School diplomas were honored during an evening ceremony.

The pageantry was the same for both ceremonies. In all, 459 graduates crossed the stage wearing academic regalia adorned with variously colored cords and sashes signifying their individual achievements.

“Today we celebrate the culmination of your achievements,” said Kris Rider, chair, SFSC District Board of Trustees. “We honor you with pomp and recognize your hard work and dedication to finish the course.”

Audrey May delivered the student commencement speech during the afternoon ceremony for arts and sciences graduates. May, who earned her AA degree, plans to enroll in the biomedical sciences program at Adventist University of Health Sciences this fall.

Commencement Dr Tim Wise and Audrey May

Dr Tim Wise and Audrey May.

May’s path to the commencement stage was one fraught with hurdles she surmounted, she said, because of her faith and the love she had for her children. May recounted a frightful journey that took her from her home in Florida to a life in the hinterland of Central America, a journey marked with abuse and harrowing ordeals.

May eventually found a home in Highlands County, married her dream husband, and worked her way through SFSC’s two-year associate degree program. “Today, I stand here a happily married women with 10 amazing kids, awesome in-laws, living in a beautiful home with a white fence,” May said. “I am also a 2106 graduate of SFSC, and I declare that I am living the American Dream which I prayed for long ago.”

The evening Commencement ceremony featured Sharmin Jones as its student speaker. Jones, a registered nurse and graduate of SFSC’s Practical Nursing and Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) programs, earned her BSN degree. When SFSC launched the BSN degree in 2014, she was one of the first to apply. Earning a BSN will open doors for Jones to advancements in nursing beyond those available with an associate degree.

Jones showered the faculty with praise, thanking them for their dedication to seeing their students succeed. “We depend on the faculty like you,” said Jones, turning to the professors and instructors on stage. “We depend on you to keep us motivated and encouraged.”

But Jones’s path to her BSN took more than encouragement—it took making a difficult choice. After she gained acceptance into the program, her employer forced her to step down from her managerial position rather than allow her the flexibility to attend class one day each week. Jones had to take a $20,000 pay cut.

“There will come a time that you may have to make a difficult decision,” Jones said. “A decision like a $20,000 cut in pay I had to make.” Jones credited the support of her family and a new, more accommodating employer, Florida Hospital Heartland, with helping her earn her degree.

Sharmin Jones, student Commencement speaker, with Dr. Thomas C. Leitzel.

Sharmin Jones, student Commencement speaker, with Dr. Thomas C. Leitzel.

Before handing students their diplomas, Dr. Thomas C. Leitzel, SFSC president, encouraged them to “keep moving” on their academic journey. “In the rehearsal for tonight, as you crossed the stage, you heard me say ‘congratulations’ and ‘keep moving,’” Leitzel said.

“Keep moving,” Dr. Leitzel repeated. “That’s my admonition to you.”

Dr. Charlotte Pressler, director of SFSC’s Honors Program, recognized 15 Honors Program graduates for academic excellence, outstanding leadership, and strong citizenship. They were Annsley Bohlman, Hannah Cribbs, Nicole Darder, Alexis Drzewucki, Mathew Estima, Katie LaDue, Carlos Negron, Heather Oyola, Katherine Oyola, James Pinkney, Christian Reitnauer, William Sager, and Tyler Whalen, Dylan Whiteman, and Rachel Wolf.

Dr. Michael McLeod and Kevin Brown, both deans and long-serving SFSC faculty members, were each named Dean Emeritus in recognition of their service to the college.

The college conferred the BAS-SM on 22 graduates. This Commencement featured the inaugural graduating classes of two bachelors’ degree programs: The BSN program graduated 27 students and the BSEE program 12 students.

The college awarded associate degrees to 265 students. Occupational certificates or college credit certificates went to 119 students, with another 14 graduating from the Adult Education program with a high school diploma.

Family and friends who could not attend the ceremony were able to go online to watch a live stream of the speakers and the students crossing the stage.

Elizabeth Andrews, professor of English, served as the mace bearer and chief marshal for this year’s ceremony. Marshals were Davida Austin, Thomas Bush, Kathleen Cappo, Dr. Ellen Cover, Robert Hampton, Dr. Theresa James, Melanie Jackson, Michelle MacBeth, Claire Miller, Ricardo Pantoja, and Lena Phelps.

In addition to Rider, the SFSC District Board of Trustees includes vice chair Derren J. Bryan, Kenneth A. Lambert, Timothy D. Backer, Tami C. Cullens, Dr. Louis H. Kirschner, Lana C. Puckorius, and Patrick “Joe” Wright.