2019 dental hygiene graduates

The nine graduates of SFSC’s dental hygiene program are (from left) Rebeca Alaniz, Stephanie Bennett, Melissa Escobedo, Raquel Maldonado, Areli Mendiola, Ashley Mercer, Nancy Rodriguez, Alishia Sledge, and Sandra Vargas.


AVON PARK, FLA. – May 7, 2019 – Two years of study came to fruition on Friday, May 3 in a pinning ceremony for nine women who met the requirements to graduate from the South Florida State College (SFSC) dental hygiene program. Along with College faculty, administrators, relatives, and friends, the graduates gathered in the SFSC University Center to accept their dental hygiene pins and affirm their commitment to serving their patients with the highest standards of oral health care.

The graduates are Rebeca Alaniz, Stephanie Bennett, Melissa Escobedo, Raquel Maldonado, Areli Mendiola, Ashley Mercer, Nancy Rodriguez, Alishia Sledge, and Sandra Vargas. They earned Associate in Science in Dental Hygiene degrees.   

Mercer received two student awards for achieving the highest GPA and for outstanding professionalism. Escobedo received the award for clinical excellence. Sledge earned the award for providing outstanding patient education.

Dr. Sidney Valentine, vice president for academic affairs and student services, congratulated the graduates for mastering a challenging program. “I hope it’s been challenging, because that’s what it should be,” Dr. Valentine said. “We pride ourselves on our programs at South Florida State College and particularly our health science programs. I can assure you that graduating from SFSC will pay off in the long run.”

Dr. Michele Heston, dean of health sciences, commended the graduates for choosing a career “in which every day you have the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. As a dental hygienist, you will wear many hats—the teacher and the taskmaster, but always the advocate for your practice and your patients. You have received a great education, and I have every confidence you will be successful as you begin your professional careers.”

Speaking on behalf of the faculty, Dr. Deborah Milliken, chair of dental education, assured graduates that their education would be the foundation for the decisions they make as dental hygienists. “You will make choices that reflect your understanding of professional ethics and your moral fiber. You will make choices that affect the wellbeing of your patients and yourselves. We stand here as your teachers confident that you are prepared to make those choices.”

Dr. Milliken’s words were echoed by Candy Velez, the keynote speaker, who graduated from SFSC’s dental hygiene program in 2013 and is the Highlands and Okeechobee county representative to the Florida Dental Hygiene Association. Velez encouraged graduates to be leaders in their practices and make sure their patients get the dental care they need. “Patient education and oral assessments are things your office doesn’t necessarily bill for or will ever be able to. If you ever feel that you are compromising those standards, I encourage you to step up and be a leader in your practice and advocate for your patients.”

In her final address to her classmates, class president Raquel Maldonado reminisced about the journey they had shared and the lasting friendships they formed. “Ladies, the time has come where we carry on with our life as registered dental hygienists,” Maldonado said. “I’m very proud of everything we have accomplished.