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SPC recognizes fall grads at Trop

The 105th commencement at St. Petersburg College awards degrees to about 450.

By NICOLE HUTCHESON, Times Staff Writer
Published December 16, 2007

St. Petersburg College graduate Tanya Jacobs, 31, of Seminole, scans the stands of Tropicana Field while waiting to be seated at the school's 105th Commencement on Saturday. Jacobs graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary K-6 Education.
[Edmund D. Fountain | Times]

ST. PETERSBURG - One lives 170 miles away, in Melbourne, and earned a degree in veterinary technology online. Another is a 50-something mother of three with dreams of better pay.

On Saturday morning, graduation united them.

Carl Kuttler, president of St. Petersburg College, called it among the "most diverse group of two- to four-year candidates."

Saturday morning marked the school's 105th commencement ceremony. About 450 students received degrees during the fall graduation ceremony held at Tropicana Field.

It was a time to honor both students and individuals who influence the community in which the school is located. There are more than 10 St. Petersburg College locations throughout Pinellas County.

Kuttler presented developer Grady Pridgen with the President's Award for his efforts to build in urban areas.

"Every day, go out there and make this world a better place," Pridgen said to the students and crowd.

Sheila Johnson, the CEO of a hospitality business that recently purchased the Innisbrook Golf Club in Tarpon Springs, gave the commencement address.

"Choose to be bold, choose to be innovative and choose to be strong," said Johnson, who received an honorary bachelor's degree from the college on Saturday. Johnson is the first woman chosen for this recognition, joining the likes of former President Jimmy Carter and former Gov. Jeb Bush.

But by far the biggest honor went to the students who had completed their degrees. Hundreds of well-wishers poured into the stadium, some carrying bouquets of flowers and cameras.

Nik Houllis,29, came to the stadium to see his mother, Cynthia, finally earn her associate's degree. As a teacher's assistant, 56-year-old Cynthia wanted the degree so she could get an increase in pay. The mother and son both earned their associate degrees from St. Petersburg College this year.

"It's just the best thing she's ever done," said Houllis, a dental technician who lives in Clearwater.

Cammie Carman, who received her bachelor's degree in veterinary technology through the college's distance learning program, served as a speaker at the graduation.

"It was my only option, so I decided to take a chance," said Carman, 35, who already had a degree in science prior to pursuing the veterinary degree.

In the beginning Carman, a Melbourne resident, said others considered her decision to pursue her degree with St. Petersburg College's distance-learning program as a "second rate" education.

But unhappy in her former position, Carman said she truly felt drawn to caring for animals.

"And now St. Pete College has helped me salvage a dream," she said.

[Last modified December 15, 2007, 23:41:30]

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