Most kids William Maillis’ age recently graduated from elementary school, but Maillis, 11, graduated from St. Petersburg College on Saturday, July 21 with an associate in arts degree.

William Maillis

According to his father, Peter Maillis, it became obvious that William was special when, at seven months old, he began speaking in complete sentences.

“I asked him to lie down in his crib, and he said, ‘I don’t want to,'” Peter recalled. “He also surprised an entire waiting room at the doctors office when he said, ‘I want milk.'”

Early Bird

William was able to identify numbers by the time he was 6 months old, and he could say the alphabet forward and backward by age 1. He was performing multiplication by age 2, learned algebra at age 4, and was declared a genius at 5 by a psychologist, who noted that children like him are about 1 in 10 million.

After starting kindergarten at age 4, William had surpassed elementary school curriculum by the time he began third grade. He transferred to high school, where he had already earned some credits. After earning his high school diploma at age 7, William began studying at a local community college in Pittsburgh, before Peter, a Greek Orthodox priest, was transferred to the Tampa Bay Area. William was enrolled at the University of South Florida and already beginning classes when the family hit an unexpected snag: William is too young to receive federal financial aid. So they dropped all but two classes, finished the semester and enrolled at St. Petersburg College’s Tarpon Springs Campus.

“We’re out of state,” Peter said, “and SPC was a lot more affordable.”

Earning Respect

William surprised many fellow students and professors during his time at SPC.

“At first, they would ask me how old I was and if I was really in the class,” William said. “But eventually they’d get used to it.”

Not only did he succeed in his classes, he was even a leader in many of them. Peter remembered being approached after one of William’s classes by a “burly” guy who asked him if he was William’s dad.

“He said, ‘at first I thought it was a joke, but when I heard him speak in class, I asked him to be my lab partner,’” Peter said.

Tarpon Springs Campus Provost Rod Davis said that William really didn’t need any extra help.William Maillis

“William was a regular student,” Davis said. “He came here, put his nose to the grindstone and did what he had to do. He worked extremely hard and won all of our hearts.”

Peter said that William got everything he needed at SPC.

“The faculty and everybody over there was very supportive,” he said. “He was very well challenged.”

Still A Kid

Though he is surrounded by adults, William still gets lots of time in with other kids in the family’s church. He enjoys playing tag, hide-and-seek, football and basketball. Like other kids, he also enjoys video games. Unlike other kids, his favorite is a strategic history game, in which players envision alternative histories.

“It’s fun to theorize,” William said. “Like, what if Germany had won World War I?”

His father reported that he actually plays more than the average kid.

“He has lots of play time because he learns so fast,” he said. “He might have classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but the rest of the time he plays and plays.”

Future Plans

Of all his classes, William said Astronomy was his favorite, and he hopes to become an astrophysicist and work for NASA. He also hopes to explain some of the mysteries of the universe.

“So many people these days think that religion and science are separate,” he said. “But priests and bishops in the olden days used science to talk about God. I want to prove that God does exist through science, so that the world can know.”

William’s plan is to finish his Bachelor’s degree in physics, then earn a PhD in astrophysics by the time he’s 18.

Though it’s time for William to move on, Davis says that he is sure that SPC was the right place for him.

“William found in SPC a place where he could grow and show what he needed to show to the community. I think his experience here speaks volumes not only of him, but also of SPC’s faculty, administration and students. We really care if the student succeeds. That’s why we do what we do.”

St. Petersburg College welcomed its newest alumni – more than 1,000 graduates – at the college’s 137th commencement on Saturday, July 21.

Summer 2018 SPC Graduation photo

“Today, we congratulate our students and their families who have persevered to graduation, which is a huge milestone,” said SPC President Tonjua Williams. “You inspired us with your determination and today we celebrate you.”

The college awarded more than 600 associate degrees this term. The top degree awards included respiratory care and advanced technology diploma emergency medical technician.

11 and a college graduate

One of SPC’s new alumnus is just 11-years-old. William Maillis walked across the stage, shook hands with President Williams, and graduated with an Associate in Arts. Up next? Attending the University of South Florida and working toward completing his doctorate by the time he’s 18, William said.

Graduates share their stories

Two student speakers, Kevin Wesley and Alessandra Korber, addressed their fellow graduates and relatives with messages of perseverance, courage, and hope that drew cheers from their audiences.

Wesley earned a Bachelor of Science in Public Safety Administration. Korber earned an Associate in Science.

“There are no questions in anyone’s mind that each and every one of us have experienced our own adversities, hardships, successes, and triumphs throughout our educational journey,” Wesley said. “Whatever your story, whatever your motivation, be sure to continue forward.  Remember to be persistent through all adversities that life may bring to you.”

Korber shared a quote from John F. Kennedy, “Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.”

Graduation by the numbers

SPC’s oldest graduate this term is 69 years old. Eight graduates are over the age of 60. Fifty-eight percent of the graduates are female.

With this graduating class, SPC has awarded 171,685 degrees since the college – Florida’s first community college – was founded in 1927.

St. Petersburg College will hold its 137th commencement ceremony at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 21 at the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks, 12685 Ulmerton Road, Largo.

The youngest graduate is 11 years old, the oldest is 69 years old and eight graduates are over the age of 60. Fifty-eight percent of the graduates are female.

With this graduating class, SPC will have awarded 171,685 degrees since the college – Florida’s first community college – was founded in 1927.

SPC will award:

  • 659 Associate in Arts degrees
  • 153 Associate in Science degrees
  • 51 Bachelor of Applied Science degrees
  • 39 Bachelor of Science degrees
  • 168 certifications

Kevin Wesley and Alessandra Korber will address fellow graduates and guests. Wesley will earn a Bachelor of Science in Public Safety Administration. Korber will earn an Associate in Science.

This year, 35 of the best and the brightest students from across Pinellas County were selected as the St. Petersburg College 2018 Presidential Scholars. They will receive a total of more than $230,000 in tuition scholarship awards. An awards presentation was held on July 10 at the Seminole Campus Digitorium to honor the scholarship recipients. At the event, Presidential Scholars were congratulated by:

The Scholars and their family members were also treated to remarks from Fraire, who is currently enrolled in the A.S. Web Development Program.

“I am thankful to SPC for not only awarding me with funds to go to school, but also creating a place where learning is encouraged and respect is displayed,” Fraire said.

Theresa McFarland, Acting Executive Director of SPC Foundation Presenting Medal to 2018 Presidential Scholar

SPC’s prestigious Presidential Scholarship recognizes outstanding achievement among Pinellas County high school students. Graduating seniors from public, private, parochial, and home school environments who have a minimum weighted GPA of 3.5 are eligible to apply.

The scholarship provides full tuition for 60 credit hours of study at SPC. As Presidential Scholars, these students are automatically accepted into the SPC Honors Program, which is committed to ensuring the optimal educational experience for dedicated and talented students.

Presidential Scholarship recipients are selected annually based on merit and test scores.

The dust has settled – and the smoke cleared – at St. Petersburg College (SPC) as the institution approaches its second anniversary of being tobacco free. The student-led initiative to ban all forms of tobacco, including smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes, on all SPC campuses and properties was formally adopted in June 2016.

“Secondhand smoke is a major hazard, and a lot of people do not want to be around it,” SPC St. Petersburg Gibbs Campus SGA President Fallia Zacharopoulou said. “I’m very proud to be at SPC where we look out for each other.”

The Truth Initiative, a national foundation dedicated to ending tobacco use, awarded SPC a $10,000 grant through its Smoke-Free and Tobacco-Free Community College grant program to assist with implementing and publicizing the new tobacco-free policy.

“Our students raised a concern, performed research and professionally presented their findings,” said Dr. Jamelle Conner, Provost of SPC’s St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus. “Being awarded the Truth Initiative grant was further validation of their good work, and we greatly appreciate the support that the grant provided in making SPC smoke and tobacco-free.”

The grant wrapped up earlier this spring. However, SPC will not cease efforts to promote its smoke-free policy.

Under the Truth Initiative grant, SPC held multiple Wellness and Awareness events on campus. Tobacco Free Forums were also held on multiple SPC campuses to encourage open dialogue between students, faculty and staff on the new policy and related concerns to smoking and tobacco use. Information on the tobacco-free policy was regularly disseminated to ensure new students were aware of the new rules at the start of each term.

Zacharopoulou has helped to inform and educate her peers on the benefits of the initiative.

“I believe the tobacco-free campus policy is a great addition to the College,” Zacharopoulou said. “I strongly believe in being environmentally friendly, especially on a college campus, where students are here to learn with limited distractions.”

In Florida, 18-to-24 year-olds have the highest prevalence of cigarette smoking, compared to all other age groups. Many college students believe their current tobacco use is harmless, that they are not addicted and that they will quit smoking when they graduate, but studies show otherwise. Research demonstrates that young adults who smoke find that it leads to a lifetime of addiction, resulting in tobacco-related disease and premature death.

More than 20 colleges and universities have enacted smoke-free campus policies in the Sunshine State.







St. Petersburg College will join USF St. Petersburg (USFSP) for a press conference on May 23, 2018 to detail new initiatives, scholarship opportunities and expansion of existing programs to increase higher education access for all students in Pinellas County. Representatives from the Florida Legislature, USFSP and SPC will highlight how they are creating greater pathways for students from middle school through graduate school to attain their educational goals. The event will take place at 1:30 p.m. at the USFSP Waterfront.

Speakers include:

  • Senator Jeff Brandes, Florida Senate
  • Representative Chris Sprowls, Florida House of Representatives
  • Stephanie Goforth, USF St. Petersburg Campus Board Chair and USF Trustee
  • Martin Tadlock, USF St. Petersburg Interim Regional Chancellor
  • Tonjua Williams, St. Petersburg College President

“A major priority of the Pinellas County delegation this legislative session was to secure critical funding that will expand educational access and begin to provide every student in our county the resources to earn a college degree,” said Representative Sprowls.

During the last legislative session, Senator Brandes, Representative Sprowls and the Pinellas County delegation were instrumental in securing new funds for both USFSP and SPC. Some of these funds will be dedicated toward providing scholarships and programs that create a more seamless transition for SPC students and recent graduates who attained their associate’s degree to attend USFSP and earn a bachelor’s degree.

A new Blue Gold Scholarship will be offered by both USFSP and SPC that officials hope will create a greater pipeline between the two institutions and increase the overall number of students who begin at SPC and go onto USFSP. Nearly 25 percent of USFSP undergraduate students are St. Petersburg College transfers, according to data from the 2017-18 academic year.

“SPC and USFSP are working collaboratively to ensure that middle and high school students in public, private, charter and home schools know there are pathways to higher education in Pinellas County,” said Williams. “Thanks to the legislature, there are now increased resources to support these pathways so students can secure an undergraduate degree from USF St. Petersburg.”

Another scholarship opportunity will increase the number of students eligible for FUSE. FUSE is a partnership between SPC and USFSP that allows students to start earning an associate’s degree from SPC while receiving many of the perks of being a USF student, from access to campus events to specialized advising. When it’s time for a bachelor’s degree, FUSE guarantees that students who earn an associate’s degree in three years with a minimum grade point average of 2.0 will be admitted to either USFSP or USF Tampa, based on which academic path students pursue. The FUSE Program is designed to promote timely bachelor’s degree completion for students who have earned an associate’s degree from a participating regional Florida College System institution.

“USF St. Petersburg and St. Pete College have a longstanding and rewarding partnership. We continue to enhance that partnership in new and exciting ways. These new scholarship opportunities will help ensure that pathways are available for every student in our community who wants to earn a bachelor’s or graduate degree,” said Tadlock.

Other potential initiatives that may come out of the increased legislative funding include increasing the number of higher education advisors in Pinellas County high schools, establishing a winter transition program for SPC students coming to USFSP and establishing education fairs for private schools and home-schooled students.

“As both a graduate of St. Petersburg College and USF St. Petersburg, I know firsthand the impact these institutions have on changing students’ lives, and I am excited to see the ripple effect these new scholarships and programs will have for our community,” said Goforth.

SPC 2018 Graduation

Richard and Mary Cackling

Mary and Richard Cackling met in 1976, and have not left each other’s side since that day. And, at St. Petersburg College’s spring graduation ceremony May 12, that held true as they walked side by side to claim their bachelor’s degrees, his in Sustainability Management and hers in Business.

“It was love at first sight,” Mary said.

The couple, who run a cat rescue and sanctuary in Gibsonton called Gardenland Mission, started college together at Hillsborough Community College in 1978. But then, according to Richard, “Life happened,” and school fell by the wayside. Richard spent years running his own business, while Mary worked in the business world until her mother needed care, and she quit her job to be with her. When Mary’s mother passed away, the two began thinking about what would be next.

“She decided to enroll at SPC,” Richard said. “So I decided to do it too, and finish what we started 40 years ago.”

More than 1,900 graduates

The Cacklings were two of 1,949 students graduating with degrees and certificates at SPC’s 136th commencement. It began with an inspiring invocation from the Rev. Kenneth F. Irby of Bethel AME Church. That was followed by the national anthem led by SPC Professor Nathan Muehl and his music students, the St. Petersburg College Band, and vocalist Gianna Gagliardotto.

SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams welcomed guests, then recognized and thanked instructors, noting the crucial role they play in the lives of students.

“They are committed to teach, nurture, and guide our students on a daily basis,” Williams said. “Thank you, faculty, for investing in our students, for lifting them up and significantly contributing to student success.”

Williams recognized student achievements, including veterans, Honors Program graduates, Honor Society members, and those graduating with Honor, Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude and Summa Cum Laude distinctions. Williams even gave a shoutout to those graduating with “Thank you, Laude!” distinctions.

Some of the grads were collecting their college diplomas before they had their high school diplomas in hand. The 187 Early College graduates were high school students who were dually-enrolled in their junior and senior years. St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, which has earned an A from the state of Florida every year since it opened in 2004 and was named a 2017 Exemplary High Performing National Blue Ribbon School, also graduated their seniors with associate degrees.

Special awards

Ken Burke, Chair of SPC’s Alumni Association, presented the Apollo and Alumni Achievement awards to this year’s winners, who are chosen for leadership ability, scholastic standing, community service, honors, and awards.

The Apollo Award, the highest honor an associate degree graduate can achieve, has been presented annually by the SPC Alumni Association every year since 1966. This year’s winner, Joey Bower, graduated Cum Laude with his Associate in Science Degree in Technology Management and a 3.55 GPA.

Bower said he was not the average student.

“I’m also a full-time employee, a husband to a beautiful and supporting wife, the first college graduate in my family, and the father of a special needs son who requires 24/7 care,” he said. “I’m also a high school dropout who obtained his GED.”

Bower said he was inspired to go back to school by his father, who frequently urged him to form a good work ethic, telling him that everything he’d ever have in life would have to be earned. After seeing his father struggle to maintain a career in his 50s without a degree, Bower decided to get his. Bower doesn’t know exactly what his future will hold, but he does expect to have a positive impact on the lives of others.

“I don’t have the secret or the magic trick,” he told the audience as he closed his remarks. “But if I can leave you with any advice, it would be to never give up.”

The annual Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor a bachelor’s graduate can achieve, is presented annually by the SPC Alumni Association. This year’s winner, Amanda Hunt, graduated Summa Cum Laude with B.A.S. degree in Management and Organizational Leadership and a 4.0 GPA.

Hunt graduated with an Associate Degree from St. Petersburg College in 2003 before becoming a Christian missionary. During that time, she got an idea for creating a nonprofit, so she enrolled in a Business Management Bachelor’s Degree program at SPC.

“I realized further education could greatly benefit me in this pursuit,” Hunt said.

While working on her bachelor’s degree, Hunt won the Jane Till nonprofit competition with a business plan presentation for her nonprofit idea, United by Love, which connects people and resources to nonprofits doing good in local communities. She expressed her appreciation for the support she received.

“Thank you to all the people who have helped me along my studies, most notably the St. Petersburg College Foundation and its donors, Women on the Way, and the amazing faculty and staff at SPC,” she said.

Hunt closed her remarks by encouraging the audience to do good things in the world.

“Sometimes one minute is all it takes to brighten someone’s day, give them a hand, or even save their life,” she said. “My message to you today is to always remember to slow down a little and take that one minute.”

Thank you friends and family, especially moms

After hundreds of graduating students had walked across the stage, President Williams asked families and friends to be recognized for their support of the graduates. With the ceremony held the day before Mother’s Day, she gave a special thank you to mothers.

“I know there have been times when you felt that none of your hard work and support of these graduates was appreciated or even noticed. But here you are – and here they are – and these graduates did appreciate you and they did notice you.” Williams told them. “The college appreciates you.”

The Cacklings left graduation to head home to a big party with lots of friends and family ready to celebrate their successes. Mary was recently named COO of the CORE Foundation, a non-profit cat rescue out of Washington, DC, and was awarded a private contract for work with the  Xerox Corporation, which provided a nice raise upon completion of her degree.

“That’ll buy a lot of cat food,” she said.