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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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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.

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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.

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St. Petersburg College will hold its 136th commencement ceremony at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 12 at Tropicana Field, One Tropicana Dr., St. Petersburg College. Approximately 1,300 of the 1,949 graduates are expected to participate.

The youngest graduate is 16 years old, the oldest is 68 years old and 19 graduates are over the age of 60. Sixty-seven percent of the graduates are female.

With this graduating class, St. Petersburg College will have awarded 169,426 degrees since the college – Florida’s first community college – was founded in 1927.

SPC will award:

  • 1,042 Associate in Arts degrees
  • 342 Associate in Science degrees
  • 265 Bachelor of Applied Science degrees
  • 251 Bachelor of Science degrees
  • 72 certifications

Joey Bower, winner of the 2017-18 Apollo Award, and Amanda Hunt, recipient of the Alumni Achievement Award, will address their fellow graduates and guests.

Bower received an A.S. degree in Technology Management in 2017 with a 3.55 GPA. Bower is an active volunteer and donates his time to The Family Café, which exists to connect individuals with disabilities and their families with information, training and networking opportunities. He is also active with Cure Congenital Muscular Dystrophy, and is the Chairman of the School Advisory Council for the Nina Harris School.

“Imagine being the parent of a special needs child, working full-time, who decided to go back to school at 40 years old. Not only did I finish my degree, but I graduated Cum Laude,” Bower said.

Hunt will receive her B.A.S. degree in Management and Organizational Leadership and has a 4.0 GPA. She is a member of the College Entrepreneur’s Organization and Aletheia Christian Club.  Hunt won the 2017 Jane Till Nonprofit Startup Competition and received funding to start her charity organization, United by Love. As a dedicated volunteer, Hunt serves at the St. Vincent De Paul soup kitchen, organizes her local church youth group and empowers children through Global Celebration.

“I am extremely grateful for all that I have gained, learned and experienced from my time at St. Petersburg College. I will enter the nonprofit community knowing that I now have the skills and knowledge that align with the passion I have always had: to love people and help them however I can.”

Spring 2018 Graduation Infographic

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