SJR State honors adult education graduates

Adult Education graduation
Adult Education guest speaker Roshonda Phillips
Adult Education scholarships

Beyond the family cheers, tears and camera flashes, the annual adult education graduation at St. Johns River State College represents more than just the passing of an exam - it represents countless individual achievements, struggles and challenges that are the very fabric of every GED diploma.

Dean of Adult Education Melissa Perry congratulated the graduates on their commitment and perseverance, reminding them that as GED graduates, they have completed a very crucial milestone toward realizing their education and career goals.

During the ceremony, Ember Walden and Jenna Brassill, were presented with SJR State scholarships for their individual, academic and career-planning goals, and for achieving honors scores on the GED exam. Graduate Emily K. Rivera Mijangos delivered the student address.

The guest speaker was SJR State alumna Roshonda Phillips, DNP, chief nurse of quality improvement/nursing excellence at the James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa. Her story of personal triumph begins as a high school dropout.

“I know what failure feels like, and it can be discouraging. I’ve had my share of falling and failing,” Phillips said, describing herself as a teenage mother and a juvenile delinquent. “I had no hope. Then I enrolled in the adult education program at St. Johns River State College,” she said, recounting how the instructors provided guidance and facilitated the development of her calling. It was a new beginning to what seemed like an ending. Phillips would later earn her associate degree in nursing at SJR State, and ultimately earn her doctorate of nursing practice from Jacksonville University.

Phillips continued with advice on both success and failure. “Just as much as you embrace success, be prepared to fail… but I’m also telling you to get back up and start over again. It’s impossible to live a life without failing at something unless you live your life so cautiously that you never take any chances; in that case, you still fail, you’ll just fail by default,” Phillips said. “Can you image living life so cautiously that you fail by default? Never taking any chances, never dreaming, never living outside the box.”

Phillips closed her address by urging the graduates to continue with their momentum. “I am asking you to never stop dreaming,” she said. “I am reminding you that this is just the beginning.”

Among the graduates were Matthew and Kayla Wolf, whose GED journey has taken 10 years to complete due to the demands of working and raising three children, ages 9, 7 and 5, with special needs. The couple’s GED goals were fueled by their desire to be an example for their children – even if it meant taking years of “baby steps” to get their diplomas in hand. “We’ve been wanting to get our GED to show our kids that no matter what, you can do it,” Kayla said.

Their journey included transitioning to online classes in 2020 due to COVID-19, as well as tag-teaming their classes, tests, jobs and the children. Adult Education instructor Mary Connor said the program allows flexibility and is geared toward creating individual plans to help students achieve their goals at their pace,” she said.

Kayla, who works as a server and aspires to be an ultrasound technician, admitted to initially forgetting much of the academic material learned in high school. “It felt like we were starting over from scratch - especially because the math feels so much different,” she said. However, being allowed to work on their lessons at their own pace helped significantly, along with Connor’s invaluable resources and tireless commitment to their success. “This program allows flexibility and is geared toward creating an individual plan to help the student achieve their goals at their pace,” said Connor.

Matthew, who works as a loader at a local postal service, has his sights set on advancing as much as possible within the company. Matthew expressed heartfelt gratitude to the College for helping him advance in life. “Thank you, St. Johns River State College, for helping me achieve what I thought was impossible and for working with us and all of our obstacles, and giving me what I needed to start my career and better my family,” he said.

The 2019–2020 graduates are Mary Beth C. Aldridge, Alexandra B. Apostolos, Gracie R. Bagwell, Marcus A. Bailey, Mary Jane M. Burls Young, Brandon J. Campbell, Timothy S. Cason, Slaydrain Clay, Jennifer H. Cooper, Karen K. Cummings, Veronica Diaz, Sandra L. Gallagher, Devin Gorman, Dominique A. Gorman, Holly R. Hackney, Amber L. Jones, Sebastian K. Klein, Jonathan E. Laastad, Tyler J. Marston, Bertha M. Myles, Mike A. Paulino, Melany Rondon, Joseph A. Schwartz, Katelyn M. Scott, Autumn S. Skeen, Nicole H. Soles, Savahna G. Thomas, Codi L. Wade, Jayla J. Williams, and Kierstyn S. Yarboro.

The 2020–2021 graduates are Cassidy R. Baugh, Jenna N. Brassill, Rachelle M. Clark, Zaylee S. Collins, Kathleen Cummings, Donna Y. Esses, Kaylee G. Harris, Devon L. Hart, Carmen Henning, Ryan M. Josey, Sebastian H. Klein, Isabella H. Moore, Joy E. Morgan, Emily K. Rivera Mijangos, Lilly M. Sims, Lamontiaz M. Slocumb, Miranda L. Tucker, Daylen Arnold-Voytek, Ember R. Walden, Alexis L. Wise, Kayla A. Wolf and Matthew Wolf.

SJR State’s Adult Education program prepares students to earn a Florida high school diploma through the GED program. The program consists of self-paced and computer-assisted instruction, use of textbooks and handouts, and dedicated, qualified instructors. Registration for the test prep classes is ongoing.

For more information, call the Adult Education department at 386-312-4080, or visit the website at

Graduates participating in the 2021 adult education graduation are, first row, from left: Ember Walden, Zaylee Collins, Bailey Carpenter and Jaden Sweat. Second row: Rachelle Clark, Jenna Brassill, Daylen Arnold- Voytek, Matthew Wolf, and Kayla Wolf

The guest speaker was SJR State alumna Roshonda Phillips, DNP, chief nurse of quality improvement/nursing excellence at the James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa.

Jenna Brassill and Ember Walden were presented with SJR State scholarships.



Susan Kessler
Director of Public Relations and Publications
(386) 312-4020