Madeline Charles (right), student speaker, with Dr. Mark Bukowski, dean of student services

AVON PARK, Fla. — Dec. 17, 2021 — For the South Florida State College (SFSC) graduates who gathered in the Alan Jay Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday, Dec. 16, the 2021 Commencement ceremony was a time to celebrate.

Student Commencement speaker Madeline J. Charles, who received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), spoke to her fellow classmates. She recounted her mother’s personal challenge: In spite of having Lupus, she went on to earn a degree in Criminal Justice. Charles overcame her own life challenge: She became a teenage parent. With self-determination and support from the community, she completed high school and followed her dream to become a nurse. Charles urged the graduates to celebrate their accomplishments of today, “so that tomorrow you can walk through a new door. The friends and resources you have gained during this chapter of your life will hold you up through life’s difficulties. Even when the corridor to your next door seems dark, have faith that God has what is best in store for you. A wise man once told me, ‘When a door is opened in your life, that means God is working in your life.’ Walk confidently through that door. I hope I have left you with courage for the next chapter in your lives.”

Early in the program, Tami Cullens, chair of the SFSC Board of Trustees addressed the graduates: “From all the terms used to describe graduates, the one that should receive top billing is ‘winner.’ Each of you is a winner. You have demonstrated through hard work, dependability, and conscientiousness that you have what it takes to continue in your life, no matter what that may be. As you leave this theater … hold your head high and smile with joy in your heart, because you are a winner.”

The graduates received congratulations and further words of wisdom from Dr. Thomas Leitzel, SFSC president. “You have a name that we will remember as you leave us and move on to your next opportunity. I ask you to also remember our name, since we may serve as a reference for you, but also remember South Florida State College, a name that many recognize for excellence and a name that along with yours will propel you to success in your future endeavors. And for that, I simply wish you the very best.”

During the ceremony, Dr. Leitzel gave special recognition to Erik Christensen, dean of applied sciences and technologies, who retires from SFSC on Dec. 17 after having served the College for over 17 years. He also honored Helen Shoemaker, professor of nursing, who retires from SFSC on Jan. 14 after having taught at the College for 27 years.

Approximately 346 students met the SFSC requirements by fall Commencement. Of these, 26 received their Bachelor of Science in Supervision and Management (BAS-SM), four received their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), one received their Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education (BSEE), 108 received their Associate in Arts, 51 received their Associate in Science, 45 received their State of Florida High School diplomas, and 111 received career certificates or college credit certificates. Students participating in the Commencement ceremony totaled 125.

Mace bearer and chief marshal for Commencement was Thomas Bush, and marshals were Joan Briand, Kathleen Capo, Jennifer Groves, Robert Hampton, Dr. Theresa James, Cindy Kinser, Garrett Lee, Michelle Macbeth, Ricardo Pantoja, Dr. Mintoo Patel, Andrew Polk, and Tina Stetson.

AVON PARK, Fla. – Dec. 16, 2021 – The Lampe and Kiefer Hearing Aid Center Matinee Series at the Alan Jay Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts at South Florida State College (SFSC) in Avon Park opens on Tuesday, Jan. 4 and continues every Tuesday until March 8. The series is sponsored by the Palms of Sebring. All matinees begin at 1:30 p.m.

Canadian Jim Witter and his incredible band faithfully recreate some of The Beatles’ greatest hits including “Hard Day’s Night,” “Nowhere Man,” “Help,” “Hey Jude,” “Let it Be,” and countless others. During this multimedia magical, mystery tour, audiences learn some interesting facts about how some of these songs originated, and what inspired John and Paul to write some of the most memorable music of our time.

Jim Witter has been entertaining crowds for over 30 years. Witter’s versatility as an artist has allowed him the opportunity to reach out and share his music and his infectious personality with audiences of all ages across Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Dubai, and the Netherlands. His unique approach and comfortable rapport make each member of his audience feel as though they are a part of a private concert in the comfort of their own living room. Witter’s music and songwriting have been recognized on both sides of the border, earning him multiple awards and nominations from the Canadian Country Music Association, the Juno Awards, and the Dove Awards in Nashville, where Witter’s album “Forgiveness” was nominated for Inspirational Album of the year.

“The Matinee Series is very popular,” said Cindy Garren, director of cultural programs at South Florida State College. “Residents and visitors can enjoy a delightful lunch either at the Hotel Jacaranda or on campus at Kelly’s Bistro by the Bay, tour the Museum of Florida Art and Culture (MOFAC), see a rousing performance, and be home before dark.”

All areas of the theater are sanitized and disinfected prior to all performances. Hand sanitizing stations are available throughout the building. Face masks are encouraged, but not required.

Upcoming Matinees are: Phil Dirt and The Dozers, Jan. 11; The Rees Family, Jan. 18; The Four Freshmen, Jan. 25; Rocky and the Rollers, Feb. 1; Steve Solomon’s “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish and I’m Still in Therapy” on Feb. 8; South of the Border, a tribute to Herb Alpert, Feb. 15; Private Eyes, Hall & Oates tribute, Feb. 22; Country music artist Doug Stone, March 1 and the international dance/music company Tamburitzans, March 8.

Single tickets start at $28. Groups of 12 or more can save as much as 50% on selected performances; the group rate varies for each show. A 10- show subscription package is available. “It’s the best deal,” added Garren. “You pay for eight shows and get 10, plus subscribers save 15% on special events and other performances.”

The SFSC Box Office is closed for winter break, but tickets can be purchased online at 

The Alan Jay Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts has presented international and national touring shows and artists since 1984. The Wildstein Center is located on the Highlands Campus of South Florida State College at 600 West College Drive in Avon Park.

AVON PARK, Fla. – Dec. 16, 2021 – Mike Albert, who has been portraying Elvis onstage for 31 years, brings his Big E Band to the Alan Jay Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts at South Florida State College (SFSC) in Avon Park on Saturday, Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. Albert, who has won many “Elvis” contests, travels the country performing tribute concerts, often with the actual groups that backed Presley, including The Jordanaires and The Stamps.

Albert, who grew up in Canton and Carrollton, Ohio, is a full-time auctioneer who performs at major venues across the country about 60 times a year. His costumes, which cost between $2,800 and $6,500, are created by the gentleman who had patterns to Presley’s costumes.  “Mine are exact reproductions,” said Albert. “These are not sequins or paint. It’s all rhinestones, studded, and embroidered, and it’s heavy.”           

Actor and musician Scot Bruce kicks off the Elvis Birthday Bash with his ‘50s era Elvis show. His uncanny resemblance to the young “King” has taken his live show across the U.S. and all over the world. Recently, he had the honor of performing with the legendary Jordanaires (Elvis’ original backup singers) and appeared as “Elvis at 21” at the Smithsonian’s prestigious Elvis exhibit in 2011. Bruce played Elvis on E! Entertainment Network’s “True Hollywood Story: Elvis in Hollywood.” He has appeared in music videos with Faith Hill and Sheryl Crow portraying a young Elvis, and he held recurring roles on the hit soap operas Days of Our Lives and The Bold and the Beautiful. Bruce also tours with the ‘Legends of Rock & Roll – Buddy, Roy & Elvis.’

Mike Albert, “The World’s Finest Elvis Impersonator,” plays the second half of the evening. His sincere, respectful portrayal of “The King” has earned endorsements by Elvis Presley’s own musicians and back-up singers. He regularly performs with The Jordanaires, and his style, charisma, and ability to get the audience involved in the show have proved to be quite the crowd pleaser. Albert makes it a point to keep The Elvis Birthday Bash fresh with an ever-changing song lineup. Special requests are often delivered to audiences who are “All Shook Up!”

Tickets are $40, $30, and $25, and groups of 12 and more save 50%. The performance is sponsored by Crews Companies. Tickets can be purchased online at, by phone at 863-784-7178, or in person at the SFSC Performing Arts Box Office on the campus of South Florida State College located at 600 West College Drive in Avon Park.

ADN graduates recite Nightingale Pledge

Graduates recite Nightingale Pledge.

AVON PARK, Fla. – Dec. 7, 2021 – On Monday, Dec. 6, 22 graduates of South Florida State College’s (SFSC) Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program were honored in a traditional pinning ceremony in the Alan J. Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts at SFSC’s Highlands Campus in Avon Park.

The graduates are Crystal Abesamis, Debbie Arias, Karl Asumen, Sonia Becerra, Tessa Brewer, Cole Bronson, John Morgan Clyatt, Raylee Coleman, Jessie Cox, Caitlin Cwalinski, Sarah Elders, Diana Eugenio Hernandez, Kayti Ezard, Jodie Ferreira, Adriana Galindo, Samantha Hazard, Kimberlee Layton, Jenny Lopez, Eduardo Magana, Morgan Mimbs, Gloria Onyishi, and Adrianna Springsteen.

Each year, ADN graduates award the Golden Duck to someone who has served as a mentor to the students in the program. The D.U.C.K. acronym represents the foundational elements of the mentoring arrangement: Developing, Understanding, Compassion, and Knowledge. During the ceremony, ADN graduate Crystal Abesamis presented the 2021 Golden Duck Award to Dr. Veronica Walker, an SFSC Nursing Education adjunct instructor and nurse practitioner in Lake Placid.

Mary von Merveldt, director of nursing education, indicated that it was St. Nicholas Day and compared St. Nicholas’ life with those of the graduates. “He was said to be humble, compassionate, and generous. He shares this with you — the way you care for your patients and each other is inspiring. You also have another commonality with St. Nicholas – you, too, help with a global health crisis. Nicholas was believed to have lost both his parents to an epidemic at a young age. Academically, you’ve faced difficult days as a result of the pandemic and the challenges that come along with nursing school. Some of you have faced tough personal circumstances, but have persevered no matter what life has thrown at you. My wish for you is that you continue to give in spite of your circumstances. That you bless others through your generosity, compassion, and that you are blessed in return.”

During the ceremony, the graduates’ loved ones presented them with their individual nursing pins. The graduates, then, passed the flame of a lamp, one to another, before reciting the Nightingale Pledge.

Von Merveldt explained the origins of the Nursing pinning and the importance of the lamp lighting ceremony to the graduates: “The pinning we know today originated in the 1850s at the Nightingale School of Nursing at St. Thomas Hospital in London. Having been awarded the Red Cross of St. George for her selfless service to the injured and dying during the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale chose to extend this offer to her most outstanding graduating nurses by presenting each of them with a medal of excellence. The presentation of the lamp is a symbol of the caring devotion nurses administer to the sick and injured in the practice of nursing. After nurses were pinned, Nightingale would light a lamp and pass the flame to each nurse as they recited the pledge. The passing of the flame represents a formal welcoming of new nurses to the profession. Florence Nightingale personifies competence, compassion, courage, selflessness, determination, and initiative. These nurses’ values are yours to pass along to those you work with, teach, or mentor. But most importantly, they are a blessing to those under your care. The memories of this special ceremony will remain with you throughout your career as you carry on the sacred legacy of caring and excellence that is nursing. I am honored to be the first to welcome you into the discipline of professional nursing.”

Graduates of the ADN program become registered nurses by passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for Registered Nurses. SFSC nursing graduates are usually fully employed in nursing within a few months of graduation.

SFSC’s ADN program is the only nationally accredited nursing program in its service district of Highlands, Hardee, and DeSoto counties. It is accredited through the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

SFSC offers ADN program options for students interested in becoming registered nurses: a two-year Generic-RN program, a two-year Evening/Weekend RN program, and a one-year Transition-LPN to RN program. The College also offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program and an 11-month Practical Nursing (PN) program. For program entry requirements, consult the SFSC College Catalog online at  or contact Danielle Ochoa, Health Sciences Division advisor at 863-784-7027 or by email at or

AVON PARK, Fla. – Dec. 3, 2021 – South Florida State College (SFSC) celebrates its new graduates with a Commencement ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 16, at 6:45 p.m., at the Alan Jay Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts, SFSC Highlands Campus, in Avon Park.

The Commencement speaker is Madeline J. Charles, who graduates with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). In June 2020, she earned her Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) at SFSC. She is a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and the Student Nurses Association. Charles plans to earn her Master of Science in Nursing to become a certified nurse midwife and open a birthing center.

Approximately 346 students will have met the SFSC requirements by fall Commencement. Of these, 26 will receive their Bachelor of Science in Supervision and Management (BAS-SM), four will receive their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), one will receive their Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education (BSEE), 108 will receive their Associate in Arts, 51 will receive their Associate in Science, 45 will receive their State of Florida High School diplomas, and 111 will receive career certificates or college credit certificates. Students participating in the Commencement ceremony will total 125.

Mace bearer and chief marshal for Commencement is Thomas Bush, and marshals are Joan Briand, Kathleen Capo, Jennifer Groves, Robert Hampton, Dr. Theresa James, Cindy Kinser, Garrett Lee, Michelle Macbeth, Ricardo Pantoja, Dr. Mintoo Patel, Andrew Polk, and Tina Stetson.

Eaton's photo "Pellie" Party

Pellie Party by Cindy Rose Eaton

AVON PARK, Fla. – Dec. 3, 2021 – The Museum of Florida Art and Culture (MOFAC) at South Florida State College (SFSC) has mounted a Florida wildlife exhibit featuring the work of photographer Cindy Rose Eaton. The exhibit is on display in the Lobby Gallery of the Alan Jay Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts at SFSC, now through Monday, Jan. 31.

Eaton is an award-winning, Florida-based artist who, over the past 16 years, has become a highly respected professional Everglades wildlife and nature photographer.

“My love for nature, especially living in Florida with the abundance of birds and water habitats, has had a tremendous impact on how I shoot and capture unique images,” Eaton said. “Highlands Hammock State Park in Highlands County has become a favorite hangout to shoot photos, along with Florida beaches on the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, as well as wherever my travels take me – to Montana, New England, Switzerland, and beyond.”

Eaton’s art reflects her keen interest and appreciation for this unique ecosystem. She shoots with her heart to capture, expose, and help preserve this fragile ecosystem. Her uniquely styled imagery brings intricate details up close to the viewer and reflects her personal commitment and her desire to represent each photograph as lifelike as possible.

Eaton is a native of Montana, but she has lived in Florida for more than 17 years. During this time, she has developed a love and passion for southern Florida’s spacious and magnificent River of Grass and the flora and fauna that are found throughout. Her photographic vision has been exhibited in many galleries and art expositions throughout Florida.

The Alan Jay Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts at SFSC is located at 600 W. College Drive in Avon Park. The Lobby Gallery is open to the public during MOFAC’s hours Wednesday through Friday, 12:30 – 4 p.m. Patrons of the Wildstein Center may visit the museum one hour prior to matinee and evening performances. MOFAC will be closed Saturday, Dec. 18 and reopen on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022.

For more information about MOFAC and its programs, contact Dale McDaniel, MOFAC manager, at 863-784-7240 or by email at

Madeline Charles

Madeline Charles

AVON PARK, Fla. –Dec. 2, 2021 – As a child, Madeline (“Maddie”) Charles wanted to become a doctor — specifically, a pediatrician, because she loved children. As she grew up and spent time researching the field, she decided that, as a nurse, she could build stronger relationships with patients.

Years later, Charles graduates with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from South Florida State College (SFSC) and will be the student speaker at the College’s Commencement on Thursday, Dec. 16 at 6:45 p.m. at the Alan Jay Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts on the Highlands Campus in Avon Park.

All through her school years, Charles was studious and attentive. While attending Avon Park High School, she was enrolled in SFSC’s dual enrollment program, which allowed her to take college-level courses. She graduated in the top 10% of her high school class and qualified for a Bright Futures scholarship to college.

However, obstacles came her way in her young life. Growing up, her mother had Lupus, an autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation throughout the body. And her father was a missionary, a job that took him away to Haiti frequently and for long periods of time. When she was 15 years old, the family moved from Homestead, Fla. to Avon Park. Shortly before the move, Charles discovered that she was pregnant.

“At Avon Park High School, people were supportive,” Charles said. “I even had two teachers who threw my baby shower for me, and I got many supplies to help me during my first year of being a mother.”

Although Charles was preparing to have a child, she was determined to continue her education. “When I told my school counselor, Mrs. Griffin, that I wanted to graduate that school year, she didn’t look at me and say, ‘You don’t want that much on your plate. You’re pregnant, and you’re going to have your baby in the middle of the school year.’ Instead, she said, ‘I’m going to show you how you can get it done.’ And she did. She helped me graduate and made sure that I met all my requirements and graduate with a Bright Futures scholarship.” Charles’ daughter, Arabella or “Bella,” was born during Thanksgiving break in Charles’ senior year in high school.

In the meantime, the pastor at Charles’ church — Avon Park Lakes Baptist Church — had recommended that she attend parenting classes at Choices Family Resources Center in Avon Park, a family planning center. At the center, she could earn “Baby Bucks” to use in its store for diapers, clothing, a car seat, a crib, and more.

“Although I don’t attend parenting classes anymore, the counselors from that program are still in our lives today,” Charles said. “Now, I volunteer there as much as I can. As a volunteer, I restock the store, watch children of clients while they take parenting classes, and answer phone calls.”

“Bella was 2 or 3 years old when I started the Nursing program at SFSC,” Charles said. “I was able to take her to the RCMA Avon Park Child Development Center from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., which fit amazingly into my class schedule — we had classes 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.” On days when she had Nursing clinicals or labs in the afternoon, Charles could rely on a married couple from church to pick Bella up from RCMA.

Charles was inspired to go into nursing because of her mother. “My mother got her master’s degree in criminal justice while having lupus,” she said. “She never got to use her degree, because she passed away. But seeing how she had an illness and still worked toward a degree, drove me. My mother had many episodes where her systems would flare up so much she needed acute care at the hospital. Seeing how the nurses, who worked 12 hours at a time, provided care to her really touched me. They made a connection with me, everyone in my family, and my mother. That’s the kind of connection I wanted to make with other people.”

Charles was accepted into SFSC’s Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program and graduated in 2020. While a student, she was a member of the Student Nurses Association and was invited to join the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. She also participated in the Work-Study program, tutoring other students in SFSC’s Tutoring and Learning Center Math Lab.

After graduation, she began working on the Progressive Care Unit at AdventHealth Sebring. “On that floor, we usually take care of post-surgical patients and those with a cardiac issue or patients who need close monitoring, but not Intensive Care Unit-level of care. However, from August 2020 until about April 2021, the floor was primarily patients being treated for COVID-19.”

Charles now works as a nurse in the Labor and Delivery Unit at the hospital. She plans to give herself a year off from studies after earning her bachelor’s degree. “In 2023, I’ll be starting a master’s program to become a certified nurse midwife,” she said. “During my year off, I want to use that time to get experience in a health care office — perhaps, shadowing the doctors or a nurse practitioner that has their own practice. I’d like to learn the business side of health care — dealing with insurance, scheduling patients, how to protect healthcare records. I’d like to couple all that with my master’s education to be able to open a practice here in the community in the future.”

Charles’ advice to single parents considering college is this: “This community is good at lifting up the elderly and single mothers. And Highlands County is pro-family. Research is your best friend. When it comes to resources in the community, you could miss out on what they provide for you. Everyone goes at their own pace. Even if it takes you longer, college shouldn’t be seen as a stressor permanently. You may need to take one class at a time. Once you see how demanding one class is, you may then be ready to take more during a semester.”