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SPC graduates

SPC graduate Salwa Shamsi addresses fellow graduates.

About 680 St. Petersburg College graduates attended two commencement ceremonies Saturday, Dec. 13, at First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks. Prior to the 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. processionals, SPC student Robert Kruithoff sang Christmas classics on a stage adorned with lighted Christmas trees and garland. Graduates entered the Worship Center to the cheers and shouts of hundreds of friends and family.

Inside and out, hundreds of tweets, photos and videos were shared on social media.

SPC graduates

SPC graduates enter the morning ceremony.

“Among our 1,888 graduates are 238 who are receiving more than one credential,” said SPC President Bill Law. “One hundred and six are between the ages of 50 and 60, and 20 of us are over the age of 60. Today, our oldest graduate is 70 and our youngest is 17. For every male graduate, there are two female graduates….five of our graduates will receive their diploma on their birthday.

“Including those awarded today, the number of degrees and certificates awarded by SPC since 1927 is 144,074.”

In delivering the morning invocation, the Rev. Clarence Williams from Greater Mount Zion A.M.E. Church in St. Petersburg wished graduates well, noting that “education is the new currency.”

Tammy Mintler speaks at the morning graduation.

Tammy Mintler speaks at the morning graduation.

Of the four students who addressed their peers at the ceremonies, graduate Tammy Mintler traveled the farthest – from Montana. She received her Bachelor of Applied Science in Veterinary Technology.

“To my fellow graduates: You are the one person on whom you can always depend,” said Mintler, who plans to teach vet tech. “The influence of others will wax and wane throughout our lives but we are ultimately responsible for our choices, our successes and failures. … we have achieved a certain level of success today, but our education is a tool that can help distinguish ourselves.

“Education itself is an opportunity and learning is a lifelong process. Learning is what keeps life interesting and challenging. As we learn, we grow. Learning is limited only by apathy, and we only truly fail when we stop trying. Don’t ever hesitate to accept the challenge of a new opportunity.”

Celeste Edwards speaks to graduates

Celeste Edwards speaks to graduates

Graduate Celeste Edwards, who received an Associate in Arts degree with a focus in psychology, delivered a more spiritual message. She plans on working in social work to make a difference in the lives of at-risk Florida youths.

“I’m the eldest of eight children and the last to graduate in my family,” said Edwards. “I remember the day this journey began … it was the way in which God chose for me to re-enter my life … after the loss of the love of my life.

“Now today, December 13, 2014, we all are standing on a foundation of love, encouragement, prayer and strength, along with the help and support from the writing lab, learning centers and tutors for whatever subject we needed help in. And I cannot forget the support and guidance and encouragement from my counselors, professors, instructors here at SPC.

“Class of 2014, keep building on your foundation. Always be an encouragement to others and always be willing to lend a helping hand. Give back what was given to you.”

Salwa Shamsi and Kathleen Bryan post before the afternoon graduation ceremony.

Salwa Shamsi and Kathleen Bryan post before the afternoon graduation ceremony.

The afternoon ceremony featured student speaker Salwa Shamsi, who received her Associate in Arts degree and Kathleen Bryan, who received her Bachelor of Applied Science in Health Services Administration.

In that invocation, Joseph Smiley, dean of Social & Behavioral Sciences, asked that students receive the “grace to make a difference for good, to allow them to make great contributions to society and be a special blessing to all those they touch on life’s highway.”

Shamsi, who plans to enroll at the University of South Florida to earn a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, told her peers: “We have accomplished one of the most major milestones of our lives: this is the first step in the journey of our unknown future, and we all should be recognized for this significant success.

“The choice we took to further our education has, and will, open many doors of opportunities. But this is not the end of our road; it is instead part of a longer, larger journey within our lives.

“So let us be remembered by holding on to our best values: caring for others, performing random acts of kindness, and leaving a great impact on our fellow humans because we should all be loved and all be valued.

“May our success add to the wealth of excellence that has been part of this great institution since that first graduating class in 1929.”

For Kathleen Bryan, second and third chances were something to celebrate.

“Back in 2009, I was laid off twice in five years,” said Bryan, who traveled to graduation from Dunnellon. “In a whirl wind I was enrolled in college, sitting in a classroom, with no books and no idea what I was going to do.”

Now, three degrees later, Bryan works for a medical company in Ocala.

“Nothing can stop you if you have determination and persistence,” said Bryan. “Look around you today; everyone is here to celebrate us and our determination to reach this goal. I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to quit, but with the support of my family and friends they pushed me which made me push myself.

“Just remember whatever dark cloud may linger over you, there is sunshine waiting to follow. Never give up on your dreams, go out and find a career that makes you happy, and you will never work.”

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After spending 20 years in U.S. Army intelligence, Tammy Mintler decided to finally pursue her lifelong dream of working with animals.

She earned her associate degree in veterinary technology from Colby Community College in Kansas, and then pursued another dream: to live in Montana.

On Saturday, Dec. 13, she will graduate from St. Petersburg College’s online bachelor’s degree program in veterinary technology. She will use her degree to teach vet tech.

“For an online program, it was much more challenging than I expected,” said Mintler, who will represent upper division graduates when she addresses her peers at the morning commencement ceremony.

While Mintler found the courses demanding, she values the knowledge she has acquired.

“I wish I had known a lot of this stuff when I first started out as a technician, like OSHA, legal and ethical issues and dental classes,” said Mintler, who made the President’s Honor Roll at SPC four times. “I feel more rounded now. And as an instructor, I can draw from my personal experience and the new things I have learned.”

Mintler spent 10 years working as a veterinary technician and always enjoyed working with high school groups when they came into the practice where she worked. She would show them around, give tours and quiz them.

“They said ‘you should be a teacher.’  But I really couldn’t afford to move to get my bachelor’s.”

After finding St. Petersburg College’s program online, Mintler got a call from Dean Rich Flora, inviting her to apply.

“The faculty was extremely supportive,” Mintler said. “Everyone is willing to go the extra mile to help students. I never expected (the dean) to call me like that.”

Mintler plans to remind her fellow graduates that “education itself is an opportunity and learning is a lifelong process. Learning is what makes life interesting and challenging. […] Learning is limited only by apathy, and you only truly fail when you stop trying.”

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SPC psychology student Celeste Edwards

Celeste Edwards will receive her Associate in Arts degree in psychology on Saturday, Dec. 13.

St. Petersburg College’s Fall graduation ceremonies will be at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 13, at the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks, 12685 Ulmerton Road, Largo. Celeste Edwards will represent the A.A./A.S. graduates at the morning ceremony while Tammy Mintler will represent the B.S./B.A.S. graduates. Each ceremony should last about one and a half hours.

St. Petersburg College grad Celeste Edwards wants to put her education to use in making a difference in the lives of at-risk Florida youths.

On Saturday, Dec. 13, she will graduate with an Associate in Arts degree in psychology and will serve as the lower division speaker at the college’s 9:30 a.m. commencement ceremony.

Motivated by experiences in her own life, Edwards said she wants to help children who are in bad situations get the help they need and to serve as their support.

“People look at what they call a ‘bad kid,’ and I don’t see them that way,” she said. “I just say that they have some problems. I can see the light in them that’s way down deep, whereas other people may not see that light or want to give up on them.”

Edwards said that no one should ever give up on a child, regardless of the difficulty of the circumstances they face.

Social work was not her original goal when she enrolled in college years ago.

“I first started college when I came out of high school at 17, and then I had the opportunity to travel with my aunt and my uncle, who were in the military,” said Edwards, who initially took classes for a degree in respiratory care.

She took classes on and off but eventually stopped when she married her husband, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Melvin Bernard Edwards. They were married for 32 years before he died in 2010 at age 56.

Right before he passed, her husband encouraged her to go back to school and to keep living.

“I needed to get back up,” Edwards said. “I needed to live, and I had promised him I would fight and pick myself up after he was gone.”

Her children, Actavious Jermaine Edwards and LaToya Edwards-Devito, also encouraged her to go back to college and get a degree. She initially started at Eckerd College but felt it wasn’t the right fit. She switched to SPC to study psychology.

“My goal is to help as many children as I can to see the person within themselves,” she said. “I want to help them discover who they are, not who society or statistics say that they are.”

Starting in January, Edwards will pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of South Florida. Her goal is to go on to earn a master’s degree in clinical child psychology and work with children.

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fall graduation statisticsSt. Petersburg College will mark its 126th commencement in two ceremonies at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13, at First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks. About 680 of this semester’s 1,888 graduates are expected to participate.

Each ceremony is expected to last about one and a half hours. Featured speakers include:

Morning ceremony

Afternoon ceremony

Of the 2,199 degrees and certificates being conferred this fall, 1,469 are associate degrees, 412 are bachelor’s degrees and 318 are certificates and advanced diplomas. See all the numbers in our infographic.

Graduates and guests can check our instructions page for the big day. You can also follow social media posts and catch a live stream of the ceremony on our page dedicated to the ceremony.

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With a love for research and a dream to discover some of the world’s future diseases or treatments, St. Petersburg College student Salwa Shamsi wants to make a difference with her life through work in the field of microbiology.

On Saturday, Dec. 13, Shamsi, 22, will cross the stage to receive her Associate in Arts degree. But the path hasn’t been easy; she had to overcome cultural and language differences along the way.

SPC student Salwa Shamsi graduates with an Associate in Arts microbiology transfer degree on Saturday, Dec. 13.

SPC student Salwa Shamsi graduates with an Associate in Arts microbiology transfer degree on Saturday, Dec. 13.

St. Petersburg College’s Fall graduation ceremonies will be at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 13 at the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks, 12685 Ulmerton Road, Largo. Salwa Shamsi, Clearwater Campus, will represent the A.A./A.S. graduates at the afternoon ceremony while Kathleen Bryan will represent the B.S./B.A.S. graduates. Each ceremony should last about an hour and a half.

“I had very little strength in the English language, and I really was not familiar with the culture here,” said Shamsi, who attended the Clearwater adult education center for four months to improve her English language skills before enrolling in SPC’s English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program.

“So when I look at myself now and compare it to four years ago, I see that I have really improved a lot in language, personality, and overall everything,” she said.

Born in Eau Claire, Wis., Shamsi was raised in Saudi Arabia and Syria with her family. After graduating high school in Saudi Arabia, she came back to the U.S. with her younger sister in 2010 to live with her grandparents and continue her education.

During her time at St. Petersburg College, Shamsi got involved in student life on campus, joining Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and the Undergraduate Science Research Society student club. Originally focused on a pharmacy track, she discovered her passion for research during her time at SPC.

“And since I am a member of the undergraduate research society club, I got involved in the research. I enjoyed it a quite a bit,” she said. “I loved going around collecting samples, processing samples, then observing the results. So I kept in mind that I want to do more research in the future.”

In February, along with her Undergraduate Science Research Society colleagues, Shamsi helped conduct research about the antibiotic-resistant bacteria MRSA. The goal was to discover how much of a presence the bacteria had on cell phones, cash and credit cards.

“You can’t imagine how much I loved going around to collect samples, run my samples, and then finally get the exciting results,” she said. “That’s also why I changed my major to microbiology. I am very excited to experience more about microbiology and get involved in more research.”

After graduation, Shamsi plans to enroll at the University of South Florida to earn a bachelor’s degree in microbiology. Further down the road, her goal is to earn a doctorate in cancer biology or immunology with a microbiology concentration.

“I want to know and understand all there is to know about all the causes for diseases around us,” said Shamsi. “I want to understand the treatments for these specific diseases because I am hoping that one day I’ll reach my goal.”

SPC Undergraduate Science Research Society students Salwa Shamsi and Maria Hernandez participate during a research project about MRSA.

From left: SPC Undergraduate Science Research Society students Salwa Shamsi and Maria Hernandez participate during a research project about MRSA.

According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, women made up 26 percent of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workforce in 2011. In life and physical science, they made up 41 percent of the workforce. Shamsi is excited to be able to pursue her passion for science and research and join the growing trend of women in a historically male-dominated field.

“I want to prove to society and the community that a woman can do it because men are not better than women,” she said. “It’s what I love and I want to do it.”

She said she wants other women to feel inspired to do the same.

“No matter what their goals, no matter whatever the field is, they can do it,” Shamsi said. “We’re in the 21st century; this is 2014. Women can do it. We can go ahead and we can rise.”

Shamsi will serve as the lower division speaker for one of the two commencement ceremonies at First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks, 12685 Ulmerton Road, Largo.

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In 2009, Kathleen Bryan had what she considered a pretty decent job with mortgage lending firm Taylor, Bean & Whitaker in Ocala. And then one day in August, the company was raided by the FBI and the majority owner arrested for federal securities, bank and wire fraud, leaving more than 1,000 employees, Byran among them, without jobs.

Top officials were eventually convicted and sentenced to federal prison for their roles in the multi-billion-dollar fraud at the country’s third-largest FHA lender.

“I was laid off twice in less than five years,” said Bryan, who will graduate with honors from St. Petersburg College on Dec. 13 with her bachelor’s degree in health services administration. “With the economy tanking, I knew I needed a change … real estate was not working.”

After attending a job fair at the College of Central Florida in Ocala, Bryan decided to pursue an associate in science degree in health information management.

“I figured the medical field always has openings and is much more stable,” said Bryan, who will address her fellow graduates during the afternoon graduation ceremony Dec. 13 at First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks. “One minute I was unemployed, the next I’m a student.”

After finishing her A.S. degree and sending out her resume 64 times in one month alone, Bryan eventually got a job with Radiology Associates of Ocala as a patient services coordinator.

“I told them I was looking for a place I could feel at home, somewhere I didn’t dread coming to. Before my first week was over, that’s what I felt.”

She decided a bachelor’s degree would improve her career viability. The program needed to be completely online however, because she was working full-time by then and her mother was ill.

“It was very convenient,” said Bryan, who was offered a promotion at Radiology Associates as she neared the completion of her bachelor’s degree. “The faculty is excellent and really care about their students.”

When she speaks to her peers, she will stress the importance of tenacity.

“Persistence and determination is the way to go.”

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More than 300 graduates of St. Petersburg College crossed the stage during the 125th Commencement Ceremony at First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks Saturday, July 26.

A total of 1,121 students earned 1,257 degrees from SPC this term, just more than 9 percent earning multiple credentials. Graduates ranged in age from 17 to 72, with 14 graduates over the age of 60.

Bter0BHCAAE_ya9With this graduating class, the college has awarded 141,875 degrees since the college was founded in 1927, said President Bill Law.

“We thank our faculty, who are committed to teach, nurture and guide our students on a daily basis,” Law said. “They also contribute to the national reputation this college enjoys, so thank you to the faculty for investing in our students, for taking the time to lift them up and help ensure their success.”

To the graduates, Law said, “I hope you consider the role that SPC can have in your lives. I think it has been made clear today that SPC can put your dreams within reach. You have received the knowledge from some of the finest faculty. Now your challenge is to apply your wisdom, and with that, you will be a success.”

Graduate Crystal Hampton, who spoke for the four-year programs and earned a bachelor’s degree in Health Services Administration, implored her fellow graduates to “remember your past but live for the future.

“Think back to the challenges, the barriers and the adversity you have faced to get to this place. At the time they seemed insurmountable, but we learned something valuable along the way – Setbacks are just set ups for step ups,” said Hampton, becoming the first college graduate in her family.

Hampton, a nuclear medicine technologist at the Bay Pines VA, pursued a career in the health care field to honor her father, a veteran who died at the age of 53. Her respect for the military led her to the VA, where she hopes her degree will allow her to advance her career and continue helping others.

“We did not arrive here today by ourselves. We must remember the ones who supported us and helped us get here. I would not be standing here today without the support of my loving husband, my family, my friends and the faculty here at SPC,” Hampton said.

“Because of the love and support we have received, we also must remember to lend others a helping hand, to listen, and to support them, just like we have been supported.”

Btevge1CYAAwGFTTait Sorenson, who earned his associate of arts degree and spoke for the lower division programs, repeated the mantra that propelled him through school and other adventures, “Why not… Why not me?”

After working roughly 85 jobs in five states, and feeling rejected in all of them, Sorenson began asking himself why not.

“Things weren’t adding up, but deep down I continued to search for that missing something. I began to realize that I was limited, but as Michael Jordan said in his Hall-of-Fame induction speech, ‘limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.’”

Sorenson began with one class at SPC and soon found himself enrolling in Honors classes, joining student government, studying aboard in Costa Rica, becoming an officer in Phi Theta Kappa and interning at NASA.

“In the next two weeks I will have completed my NASA internship and will be making the transition to the University of Central Florida for Aerospace Engineering where I plan to work towards a Masters in Space Systems Design. And to think all of this because I had a chip on my shoulder and asked ‘why not me’?”

“I want to convey the very real implications of hard work and a genuine willingness to become involved in student group activities. No matter what direction you are headed, there will always be a plethora of ways to get plugged in. To me, this is the key value of networking and collaborating. Always remember that in order to get comfortable you must get uncomfortable. When an individual reaches out of their comfort zone is when new exciting doors of opportunity become visible and attainable. Looking back at my time at SPC, there is no way I could have envisioned my success without learning from others and always keeping an open-mind.”

See tweets about graduation at #SPCGrad, photos on the college’s Facebook page or watch the ceremony on the college’s YouTube channel.

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