Archive for the ‘commencement’ Category

When 2019 St. Petersburg College graduates Mirah and Stanley Robles walked into class in Fall 2014, neither suspected that one short month later, they’d be married to one of their classmates and, a little over four years later, receiving their diplomas together at SPC’s Spring 2019 Commencement.

Mirah, an education major, said there was an instant attraction.

“He was cute, so we started talking and exchanged contact info,” she said.

The two married one month later, Stanley said, and now are the parents of a 6-year-old daughter from Stanley’s previous relationship, and their son, who is 3.

The Robles shared a lot of the same classes, though Stanley, who finished an associate degree in Education, made the switch to Information Technology.

“It has been amazing doing this together,” Stanley said. “We’ve helped each other out along the way, and since we were on the same path, we could debate ideas about teaching and education.”

More than 2,000 degrees and certificates

The couple received their diplomas at SPC’s 139th graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 18 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. With this graduating class, SPC has awarded 176,808 degrees since the college was founded in 1927.

SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams welcomed students, families and friends of graduates as well as faculty and staff, and the invocation was given by the Rev. Esther Robinson from Pasadena Community Church. Hannah White, a 2019 graduate, sang the National Anthem before Jesse Turtle, Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Executive Director of the Foundation, announced the winners of the 2019 Apollo and Alumni Achievement awards.

Graduates and award winners

SPC Spring 2019 GraduationLorena Hmelas, an international student from Croatia, was named the 2019 Apollo Award Winner, the highest honor for an associate degree graduate. Hmelas earned an associate degree in Business Administration but couldn’t attend the ceremony due to a family emergency. She wrote in the speech she had prepared that, though she was far from home, SPC became her second home.

“For the past three years,” Hmelas wrote, “St. Petersburg College has truly been my home away from home. I was lucky to have support from many amazing staff and faculty. The environment and the people are so welcoming and helpful that you don’t feel away from home.”

Savannah Strandlof was awarded the 2019 Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor a bachelor’s graduate can achieve. In her acceptance, she thanked the SPC Alumni Association, her fellow graduates, and the faculty and staff who saw her through her program. Noting the importance of those connections, she named one special professor, Dr. Bruce Brodney, a beloved Education professor who passed away earlier in the year.

“His legacy has continued to live through me and other students and teachers each day in the classroom,” she said. “I emulate him in how I connect with my students. I look for my students’ passions. When I see that, I can connect with them in one hundred different ways.”

Graduation by the numbers

Some fun facts about Spring 2019 graduates:

  • The youngest graduate was 17 years old; the oldest was 75.
  • SPC awarded:
    • 978 Associate in Arts degrees
    • 459 Associate in Science degrees
    • 303 Bachelor of Applied Science degrees
    • 223 Bachelor of Science degrees
    • 208 Certifications

Family time, a new job and USF bound

When the diplomas were all handed out and the pomp and circumstance behind them, Stanley and Mirah celebrated their accomplishments by taking their kids to the Tampa Zoo on Saturday afternoon. He will begin a job with Pinellas County Schools as a substitute teacher in the next school year, and Mirah is headed to the University of South Florida to get her bachelor’s degree in Education.

“SPC has been amazing,” Stanley said. “And we’re excited to share this milestone together, so our kids will see it and be inspired.”

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St. Petersburg College will honor its top graduates and alumnus during commencement ceremonies May 18 at Tropicana Field. Lorena Hmelas was selected as the Apollo Award winner, the highest honor an associate degree graduate can achieve. Savannah Strandlof will receive the Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor a bachelor’s graduate can achieve.

The Apollo Award is presented annually by the SPC Alumni Association. Winners are chosen for their outstanding leadership abilities, scholastic standing, community service, honors and awards. It has been presented each year since 1966.

This year’s finalists are:

“Without St. Petersburg College I wouldn’t be where I am today and who I am today. This school has changed my life positively in so many ways, and what past year has taught me is that if I really want to accomplish something I just have to work really hard for it.”

Lorena Hmelas, St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus, Winner

Hmelas will receive an A.A. degree in Business Administration and Management and currently has a 4.0 G.P.A.

She is has served roles in the Student Government Association as Vice President, Historian, Public Relations and Senator. She served as a member of the International Student Club, Latinos United, Phi Theta Kappa, Women on the Way and was a Student Assistant in the Associate Provost’s office on the St. Pete/Gibbs Campus.

Her accomplishments include 2017 & 2018 Servant Leadership Award, 2017 Certificate of Completion of the Management and Supervision of Campus-Wide Student Government Association Skills and a 2017 Letter of Recommendation from Dr. Law for her achievements in managing a budget that exceeded $239,000 and devotion to the Student Government Association.

Hmelas served her community as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, and through the Student Government Association collected food, books and toys for people in need and helped many homeless children learn to read and develop a love of books. She volunteered through Student Life and Leadership and Women on the Way to organize events and fundraisers.

She plans to transfer to the University of South Florida to eventually earn her master’s degree in Global Business. Her goal is to find a career that will combine both business and the different languages that she speaks such as working at the UN or NATO.

“When I first arrived at SPC, I was a GED recipient with hardly any academic or life skills. SPC took me in when my life looked bleak and turned me into the person I am today, a college student on his way to university, pursuing a career and a love for the community. Like a big family, everyone at SPC was invested in my success.”

Stanley Edward Kordecki III, St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus

Kordecki will receive an A.A. in Biology and currently has a G.P.A of 3.9.

He was Student Government Senator in 2016, a member of the Outdoors Club, Harambe, Campus Community Service Committee Chair, Intervarsity Club and Intramural Sports Coordinator Assistant. He served as short time as SPC’s mascot – Titus the Titan.

In 2017 he was awarded by the Social and Behavioral Science and the Humanities and Fine Arts Department for academic excellence.

Kordecki has served his community by volunteering at the St. Pete Free Clinic, at the Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, Keep Pinellas Beautiful, the Habitat for Humanity and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

His future plans are to attend USF in fall 2019 and eventually pursue a career in environmental conservation.

“My experiences at a young age taught me the value of life and the importance of utilizing life’s opportunities. My experience at SPC has taught me to lead with excellence, integrity and honor.”

Ronelia Bailey, Clearwater Campus

Bailey will receive an A.A. degree in Business and currently has a G.P.A. of 3.9.

Among her collegiate activities is membership in the Honors Program Student Consortium, Student Government Association, BSU Badeya Club, Multicultural Club, National Council for Black American Affairs, Phi Theta Kappa Tau Zeta, Golden Key International Honor Society, Women2STEM, and the Annual Collegiate Research Conference.

In 2018, Bailey received the Dr. Theodore J. Mazza Student of the Year Award and the Most Engaged Study Abroad Student Award. In 2017 she received the award for Outstanding Student in Fine Arts and Humanities.

She volunteered as a Peer Leader for the 2019 Florida International Leadership Conference, at the Eckerd Connects Raising Hope’s distribution center, for the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, the Salvation Army and various events on campus.

Bailey’s goal is to transfer to USF and major in both Global Business and Spanish. She would like to become a teacher in an under-resourced public school for a few years and then get a master’s degree in International Relations and Business Administration to fulfill her dream as an Ambassador of the United States or pursue a career in Global Banking.

“My enthusiasm for life in general and especially as it relates to animals is infectious and I know that as a SPC Veterinary Nursing graduate, I WILL make a difference. SPC has allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and follow my passion.”

Michelle M. Werden, Veterinary Nursing Center

Werden will receive an A.S. degree in Veterinary Nursing and currently has a G.P.A of 3.7.

She is an active member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and the Florida Veterinary Technicians Association. She received the P.E.O. Program for Continuing Education Grant and was the recipient of the Pinellas County Veterinary Medical Association Scholarship.

She has been a volunteer since 2016 with the Pet Pal Animal Shelter where she assists with community events and educates the community on the importance of spaying and neutering their pets.  Through Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, she helped organize activities and meals for the guest of the Ronald McDonald House.

Werden’s future plans include taking a full-time position at the Pet Pal Veterinary Clinic and to continue her education by pursuing the Human-Animal Bond and Pet Nutritional Certifications.

Alumni Achievement Award Finalists

Four outstanding St. Petersburg College students have been selected as finalists for the annual Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor a bachelor’s graduate can achieve.

The Alumni Achievement Award is presented annually by the SPC Alumni Association. Winners are chosen for their outstanding leadership abilities, scholastic standing, community service, honors and awards.

This year’s finalists are:

“SPC instilled a passion in me for community service and always striving toward the goals that I have set. The College has overwhelmingly equipped me for life after college as I have listened and learned in constructive environments with life-changing professors and inspiring colleagues. The guidance of everyone I have come in contact with at SPC has impacted me in the way that I hope to impact each and every one of the students in my future classrooms for years to come.”

Savannah Strandlof, Clearwater Campus, Winner

Strandlof will receive a B.S. degree in Elementary Education (K-6) with Reading and ESOL Endorsement and currently has a 4.0 G.P.A.

Strandlof is a member of the Kappa Delta Pi International Education Society – Education society which promotes excellence in teaching and fellowship. She is also a member of the Student Florida Education Association.

She participated as a member on the Model United Nations Academic team and attended the National Model United Nations conference in New York to represent the country of Bolivia. Ms. Strandlof was recognized by the National Collegiate Conference Association at the NMUN New York Conference as a Distinguished Delegate for her representation for Bolivia on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Strandlof served as the Chair of Model UN Women at the Pinellas County Model United Nations conference held by SPC where she led and monitored sessions and discussed issues affecting women globally.

Strandlof serves her community actively as a volunteer for Belcher Elementary’s Ninja Warrior Fun Run Family Day, Calvary Baptist Church preparing meals for families in need and Champions for Life Kids Camp as a buddy for abused, abandoned and neglected children.

She plans to obtain a Masters degree in Gifted Education and a Doctorates in Curriculum and Instruction or Educational Leadership.

“I invested my time and resources into this college and I have managed to make a second home here at SPC. I’ve built new relationships, developed new skills and actively served to spread the knowledge and blessing that SPC has to offer.”

Jerrick Rivera, Seminole Campus

Rivera will receive a B. A. degree in Management and Organizational Leadership and currently has a 3.5 G.P.A.

He has served as the 2018-2019 President of the SPC Student Government Association on the Seminole Campus and has served as an officer with SGA since 2013.

Rivera is active within his community serving as a volunteer for such organizations as Habitats for Humanity. Every Sunday he commits seven hours or more to his church’s production team as the lighting director, programming lights and commanding lighting queues. He also serves as a vocalist during worship and services. Mr. Rivera has also volunteered with several local 5K Marathons.

One of his most proud moments was being chosen to deliver the “2017-2018 Student Life and Leadership Annual Budget” presentation to the SPC Board of Trustees at their monthly BOT meeting.

Rivera plans to continue his education and obtain a Masters in Business Administration. His aspiration is to one day to earn a position as a CEO and serve his community as a city council member.

“I felt so proud of myself for attempting and succeeding in college. I am the first in my family to attend college and it has impacted my life greatly. SPC has taught me things about teaching and working with students I feel like I would have never learned anywhere else. It has allowed me to make close connections with great professors, advisers, and peers.”

Allison Rae Thompson, Tarpon Springs Campus

Thompson will receive a B.S. degree in Educational Studies and Community Leadership and currently has a 3.89 G.P.A.

She became a member of Phi Theta Kappa in September of 2015. Ms. Thompson served as a member of the Elite Educators which is a group of teachers/students who learn together in the same classes and workshops to become better leaders and teachers of the future.

Ms. Thompson serves her community as a volunteer for many nonprofit organization. Through Feeding Children Everywhere-Hunger Project she helped package several bags of food to families all around the world. She also volunteers at Heritage United Methodist Church in the nursery.

Ms. Thompson was the recipient of the Juvenile Welfare Board Scholarship and Helios Education Foundation First Generation Scholarship.

She plans to become a VPK teacher in a Pinellas County School and giving back to the community through her love for learning. Thompson plans on continuing her education and enroll in additional classes at SPC to further enrich her learning within the field of Education.

“My experience here at SPC has had a profound impact on my life. I have found the desire to advocate on issues relating to veterans. Because of my experience as a student veteran, I have developed a desire to assist future student veterans in succeeding throughout their transition and academic careers.”

Eric Tsai, Clearwater Campus

Tsai will receive a B.S. degree in Public Policy and Administration and currently has a 3.62 G.P.A.

Tsai has been very active at St. Petersburg College serving as a member of Student Veterans Association, International City/County Management Association (ICMA), Alpha Phi Sigma National Criminal Justice Honors Society, Golden Key International Honors Society and St. Petersburg College Underwater Research Society (SURS).

He obtained his A.A. degree with Honors and was the recipient of the 2017 Veteran Scholar Award, an award that recognizes Student Veteran Scholars who have demonstrated exceptional work in their courses.

Tsai is active within his community. He volunteers with the Avian Veterans Alliance assisting with the care and handling of bird of prey at The Narrows. He also volunteers with Wounded Warriors Abilities Ranch and assists the organization through photography and setup of event displays and has participated in the Great American Teach-In as a guest speaker addressing 5th-grade classes of Blanton Elementary School.

Tsai’s goal is to obtain a meaningful career as a Law Enforcement Officer where he can continue to make a difference in the lives of the people he meets and continue his work in veteran advocacy where he can influence policies related to veteran issues. Academically, Tsai would like to obtain a Juris Doctor degree.


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St. Petersburg College will hold its 139th commencement ceremony at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 18 at Tropicana Field, 1 Tropicana Dr., St. Petersburg.

The college’s youngest graduate is 17 years old, the oldest is 75 years old and 28 graduates are over the age of 60.

With this graduating class, SPC will have awarded 176,808 degrees since the college – Florida’s first community college – was founded in 1927.

SPC will award:

  • 978 Associate in Arts degrees
  • 459 Associate in Science degrees
  • 303 Bachelor of Applied Science degrees
  • 223 Bachelor of Science degrees
  • 208 Certifications

Savannah Strandlof and Lorena Hmelas will address fellow graduates and guests. Strandlof is the Alumni Achievement Award Winner, which is the highest honor a bachelor’s graduate can achieve. Hmelas is the Apollo Award Winner, which is the highest honor an associate degree graduate can achieve.

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Fall 2018 SPC Graduation

Jalessa Blackshear was a single mom working three jobs at the Jersey Shore when she decided it was time to make a change. So she and her daughter Gia, now 4, moved to St. Petersburg, where she has lots of family. She started looking around at colleges and settled on St. Petersburg College, setting her sights on an Associate in Arts degree. On Saturday, Dec. 8, Blackshear walked across the stage to receive her diploma at the college’s 138th commencement.

SPC awarded degrees, certificates and workforce certifications to more than 2,400 students this semester with approximately 900 attending the ceremony at Tropicana Field. The youngest Fall 2018 graduate was 18, and the oldest was 76 years old. Eight of them, including SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams, were also celebrating their birthdays. She praised all of the graduates in her address.

“You inspire us with your determination,” she said. “Our students are far from ordinary – they are extraordinary.”

This graduation marked 174,637 certificates and degrees awarded by SPC opened its doors in 1927.

After a processional of faculty and administrators entered to the tunes of the St. Petersburg College Band, directed by Acting Academic Department Chair Nathan Muehl, Williams welcomed the large crowd of graduates, friends and families. The Rev. Andy Oliver of Allendale United Methodist Church offered the invocation. SPC student Hannah White sang the National Anthem and later the Alma Mater. Williams thanked the faculty for their work in educating SPC students.

“You teach, nurture and guide our students on a daily basis,” she said. “Thank you for lifting them up.”

Survivor stories

SPC Graduate Ronelia Bailey

SPC Graduate Ronelia Bailey

Two students offered inspiration, encouragement and gratitude to their fellow graduates and those who helped them reach their goals.

Ronelia Bailey, who received her Associate in Arts degree in Business, spoke about her health challenges and thanked many of her instructors for their support and encouragement.

“I am a kidney failure survivor,” she said, before thanking her anonymous kidney donor. “I am a Lupus survivor. I am a kidney transplant survivor. I was able to get through because of the love of my family, friends, and faculty and staff at SPC. Grads, I implore you to thank those who helped you along the way.”

Alexander Fisher captured the audience with his story of how, eight years ago, he was homeless and completely dispirited with life. He was encouraged by someone to do the work it took to make things different, and he took that advice and started taking steps to make changes and shake off the fear that had prevented him from moving forward for so long. He encouraged his fellow graduates and their family and friends to forget any fears that might be holding them back.

“Strive for the life you want,” Fisher told them. “Work hard, and your dreams will come to fruition. You are all good enough – you just have to believe in yourselves.” he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Management & Organizational Leadership.

SPC Graduate Alexander Fisher

SPC Graduate Alexander Fisher with SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams

Setting an example 

With her degree in hand, Blackshear is passionate about what she can achieve in her future. She will pursue a bachelor’s degree and would like to initiate education reform and help communities reach their full potentials. She admits that, at times, it was a struggle to work two jobs, be a mom, volunteer in her community and succeed academically. She is thankful for the support services offered at SPC.

“I spent 20 hours a week at the Downtown campus with tutors. It was the only way I was going to pass,” she said.

And pass she did, because Gia and her family cheered her on as she received her diploma.

“I wasn’t going to walk,” Blackshear said. “But then I thought about my daughter and how it would be good for her to see me do this. I walked for her.”

See more photos from the event on the college’s Facebook page.

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St. Petersburg College will hold its 138th commencement ceremony at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8 at Tropicana Field, One Tropicana Dr., St. Petersburg.

The youngest graduate is 18 years old, the oldest is 76 years old and 19 graduates are over the age of 60. Sixty-two percent of the graduates are female.

With this graduating class, St. Petersburg College will have awarded 174,637 degrees since the college – Florida’s first community college – was founded in 1927.

SPC will award:

  • 1075 Associate in Arts degrees
  • 399 Associate in Science degrees
  • 298 Bachelor of Applied Science degrees
  • 211 Bachelor of Science degrees
  • 483 Certifications

Ronelia Bailey and Alexander J. Fisher address fellow graduates and guests. Fisher will earn a Bachelor’s of Applied Science in Management and Organizational Leadership. Bailey will earn an Associates in Arts in Business.

Fall 2018 Graduation By The Numbers

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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.”

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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.

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