Carol Mitchell with Dr. Mark Bukowski

Commencement speaker Carol Mitchell (right) with Dr. Mark Bukowski

AVON PARK, Fla. – May 10, 2023 – South Florida State College (SFSC) marked the end of the 2022-23 academic year with its spring Commencement held in two ceremonies on Tuesday, May 9 in the SFSC Alan Jay Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts on the Highlands Campus in Avon Park.

During the 4 p.m. ceremony, SFSC honored recipients of the Associate in Science (AS), Career and College Credit certificates, and State of Florida High School Diploma.

Honored during the 7:15 p.m. ceremony were students who earned their Associate in Arts (AA), Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management (BAS-SM), Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education (BSEE), and Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

Opening the ceremonies, Terry Atchley, chair of the SFSC District Board of Trustees, told the graduates, “Your ability and desire to participate in this evening’s ceremonies tell the world that you are ambitious, passionate, and tenacious. These qualities have equipped you to make a difference in changing lives and shaping our communities for the better. Graduates, as you embark on the next chapter in your lives, remember that SFSC is forever your home.”

In her presentation to the graduates during the 4 p.m. ceremony, Carol Mitchell, who earned her Associate in Science in Nursing and is the first person in her family to graduate from college, shared her personal story. She was sexually assaulted as a teenager and became a teen parent. She related how family support and her determination and internal strength brought her to this point in her life.

“It would have been easy to let it consume my life and give up my dreams,” she said. “But I refused to let it define me, take me off course, and keep me down.”

Mitchell explained that a high school teacher had called her an abomination and an embarrassment and that Mitchell shouldn’t be allowed to attend high school because she was pregnant.

“She didn’t know my story,” Mitchell said. “To this day, those words still hold weight. But, instead of letting them define me, I used them as motivation to push myself forward and focus on being the best version of myself. My parents’ love gave me the foundation I needed to keep going. I was determined to use my voice to make a difference and propel me toward my goals and a better future for myself and my daughter, who is now a decorated soldier in the United States Air Force.”

Emily Dressel with Dr. Mark Bukowski

Commencement speaker Emily Dressel (right) with Dr. Mark Bukowski

The 7:15 p.m. ceremony featured Emily Dressel, who earned her Associate in Arts and looks forward to continuing her education at Florida Southern College. Dressel didn’t think she could afford to attend college and was about to go into the Air Force. When she met Andy Polk, the SFSC student activities coordinator, he introduced her to people at the College who could give her guidance. 

“If you take what life gives you, the positive and the negative, and build on it, you can define success,” Dressel told the graduates. “SFSC has been the first step in my journey. I’m always going to hold this place, the people, and my time here close to my heart. I want my words today to be a reminder to anyone sitting in the audience that there is always … a way. Through hard work and searching for the right people and support system, there is always … a way. As you get ready to do whatever is in store for you next, always aim high in the pursuit of growth and dare to dream.”

Dr. Thomas C. Leitzel, SFSC president, has served the College for 10 years and will retire at the end of June 2023. During the Commencement ceremony, his final remarks to graduates were moving and heartfelt. “As I leave the College, like you, I take a part of everyone [at the College] with me. I’ve been inspired by them and also by you, our graduates. You provided me the opportunity to stand here and I am humbled beyond belief. Graduates, my challenge to you is to remember those who impacted your life. Reflect on the important life lessons. Be humble, be kind, and have a loving and forgiving heart as you move forward to make a change to a world that could use some adjustments. May God richly bless you, and may God continue to bless South Florida State College.”

Approximately 528 students met the SFSC requirements by spring 2023 Commencement. Of these, 19 will receive their BAS-SM, three receive their BSN, 13 receive their BSEE, 123 receive their AA, 54 receive their AS, 16 receive their State of Florida High School Diploma, and 72 receive the Career and College Credit Certificates. Students participating in the Commencement ceremonies will total 300.

Mace bearer and chief marshal for this year’s ceremony was Michele Macbeth; marshals were Joan Briand, Tina Gottus, Courtney Green, Cindy Kinser, Garrett Lee, Dr. Maday Leon, Robert Hampton, Mlisa Manning, Sofia Ochoa, Ricardo Pantoja, Michael Pate, Dr. Mintoo Patel, Lena Phelps, Andrew Polk, Anthony Record, and Tina Stetson.