SJR State honors graduates
St. Johns River State College celebrated its Spring Commencement on May 6, honoring the 650+ students who earned their associates and bachelor’s degrees or college certificates. Each graduate has his or her own story of personal growth, perseverance or career change to share. Approximately 305 graduates participated in the ceremony held on the Orange Park Campus with students ranging in age from 17 to 50 and beyond, and many being the first in their family to graduate from college.
Cliff Stearns, former U.S. Representative, Florida’s 6th Congressional District (1989-2013), was the graduation speaker. Congressman Stearns has broad experience as a business owner, legislator, issues advocate and policy leader.
The ceremony also included 166 dual enrollment and early college program graduates, including Pedro-Menendez High School senior Kennedy Williams. Williams, 17, began the Early College Program as a high school freshman and has completed her Associate in Arts degree before leaving PMHS.
Williams said that one of the biggest lessons she has learned is that it’s okay to redefine her expectations. “At one point during last semester, I was so fixated on getting A’s in all my classes that I began to see other areas in my life decline,” she said. She learned that rearranging her priorities did not make her less of a student or a bad example for her younger siblings, but instead gave her the stamina she needed to flourish in her program. Williams said that giving herself permission to “reorder and redefine” her priorities became the key to her success.
One of Williams’ favorite parts of attending SJR State was the connections she made with faculty and staff. “They always made me feel at home,” she said, and she shares that these conversations have helped her grow personally to become a well-rounded individual.
Williams is planning to study biology because of her interest in the study of DNA in relation to forensics. Her goal is to become a forensic analyst for the FBI or another forensic organization. She plans to continue her studies at either Virginia State University or North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.
In 10 years, Williams envisions making international connections and becoming more knowledgeable about the world and what she can do to serve the national public.
Logan March, a homeschooled student from St. Johns County, was presented with the Valedictorian Award. The award is given based on grade point average and difficulty of courses. March plans to continue her studies in marketing at the Hicks Honors College at the University of North Florida.
Among the graduates was Interlachen native April Blasiole, 43, who returned to Putnam County after a career as a licensed cosmetologist in south Florida. “I managed a hair salon for seven years and had my own studio where I did permanent makeup and lashes,” Blasiole said in an email to SJR State. “When the pandemic hit and everything had to be shut down, I decided I needed to finish my degree and go into the healthcare field.”
Blasiole graduates with her bachelor’s degree in organizational management with a specialized track in health care administration. She plans to begin the nursing program at SJR State this fall. “Nursing offers not only stability, but a great salary and an abundance of opportunity,” she said. “Having a bachelor's degree with a specialization in health care administration, along with a nursing degree can open so many more doors for my career than having just one or the other.”
Blasiole also admits to being driven as a first-generation graduate. “Being the first person in my family to complete my bachelor's degree is what motivated me,” she said. Blasiole hopes to one day explore the country as a travel nurse.
Her advice to anyone considering going back to school, “Just do it,” she said. “It took me over 20 years to return to school, and I wish I had done it sooner.”
During the ceremony, President Pickens presented a special tribute in honor of former President Robert L. McLendon Jr., who passed away in April. He retired in 2008 as the most senior president in Florida's community college system after 36 years of service.
A portion of the ceremony honored employees who retired in 2022, including Caroline Tingle, 26 Years of Service, Vice President for Development and External Affairs; Gregory Odom, 26 Years of Service, Maintenance Supervisor; Teresa Dew, 23 Years of Service, Workforce Coordinator; Nancy Gonzalez, 21 Years of Service, Assistant Director of Business Services; Suzanne Kempke, 14 Years of Service, Biological Science Instructor; Peter Morgan, 11 Years of Service, Senior Academic Advisor; Donald Martin, 8 Years of Service, Senior IT Analyst; Marcia Redding-Sanders, 7 Years of Service, Adult Education Instructor; Donna Wyatt, 7 Years of Service, Academic Affairs Office Specialist; Angela Sockwell, 6 Years of Service, Criminal Justice Instructor; Karen Thomas, 6 Years of Service, Dean of Advising and Student Services.
The Thrasher-Horne Center is owned and operated by SJR State and is located on the Orange Park campus at 283 College Drive.
The College was established in 1958 as a public institution serving Putnam, Clay and St. Johns counties. St. Johns River State College is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award associate and baccalaureate degrees. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of St. Johns River State College.
Director of Public Relations and Publications