MAUREEN BYRNE AHERN
Nine of the about 200 students in the college's summer graduating class received bachelor's degrees Saturday.
ST. PETERSBURG - If only the Devil Rays could garner such applause.
For more than 30 minutes Saturday morning, the audience at Tropicana Field hooted and hollered for 200 friends and relatives as they received their diplomas during St. Petersburg College's 92nd commencement.
Most of the graduates will continue their education elsewhere so they can earn four-year degrees.
But not Frank Fairchok Jr. The 33-year-old is one of nine students awarded bachelor's degrees.
Their graduation marked the first time in state history that a two-year community college has conferred a four-year degree.
During his speech, Fairchok asked SPC president Carl Kuttler: "When will St. Petersburg College's graduate programs begin?"
Kuttler chuckled before saying, "This truly is a historic occasion today."
SPC began offering four-year degrees in nursing, education and technology management in 2001. The nine inaugural graduates all received degrees in the technology management program.
Jera Bukowski, 19, of Seminole, plans to earn an associate's degree from SPC next year. But Saturday, she and five of her classmates celebrated Tommy Simpson Jr.'s graduation with an associate's degree.
They held up initials of his first name, each letter outlined in gold or green glitter.
Simpson told the audience he was very shy when he first came to the college. He joined student government and served as president this year.
He thanked the school's faculty members for giving him confidence. He also thanked his mother.
"You are my strength to carry on through any obstacle," he said. "I love you."