PRESS RELEASE: DECEMBER 14, 2023
SJR State celebrates fall graduates
Brett and Miranda Corley
When Sylvia Moody, 29, enrolled at St. Johns River State College to earn her GED, she was determined to gain the inner strength to push forward toward her goal of becoming a nurse and the person she knew she was meant to be.
Six years later, she has forged ahead as a CNA, then LPN, and now RN. “I worked as a certified nursing assistant for a few years at a small memory care unit and loved getting to know and taking care of the elderly folks who lived there,” Moody said. “I felt that I wanted to do more, and give my life to something bigger than myself.”
On Thursday, Moody graduated with her Associate in Science in Nursing degree. She was also awarded the Academic Excellence Award for her strength and dedication in maintaining academic excellence throughout the nursing program. During her journey, she said she has learned how to stay positive and that she can achieve anything she sets her mind to.
“I’ve learned that I’m more capable and comfortable with taking on the challenges of the clinical setting. It has required me to push myself further past my limits, taking myself out of a more comfortable position of followership, and stepping into the role of leadership at times,” Moody said. “Even as a new nurse, you must be prepared to lead the way for others, because being a leader is simply a part of the nursing profession. Before I knew it, instinct and training took over, and being a leader wasn’t so scary to me anymore.”
Moody’s future plans include working as an RN while continuing her education toward a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Her ultimate goals include becoming a nurse practitioner and a college instructor. “I so appreciate the excellent teachers and mentors who have been there to support me during this time,” she said. “The thought of being there for someone else in that same way really appeals to me.”
Moody was among the 146 students (of the 470+ fall graduates) who participated in the ceremony held on the Orange Park Campus.
Also graduating this fall is Brett Corley. Corley received his bachelor’s degree in organizational management. Upon retiring from the United States Army after 16 years of service, Corley enrolled at SJR State to become eligible to teach and discovered that the bachelor’s degree program was the best fit for his future. He currently teaches at Peniel Baptist Academy.
“I am uncertain where I want to use this degree. I love teaching, so I think that is the likely path, though I am open to opportunities as they present themselves,” Corley said. “It aligns with many of the jobs I have done for both the Army and civilian jobs. What I've learned through the program has taken what I knew before to a new level. What better way to make what I've learned on the job official?”
Corley said the two most significant things he has learned during his progression at SJR State is a new appreciation for his wife and that “old dogs do learn new tricks.”
“Having a full house at home and a full-time job, I have gained an enormous amount of respect for my wife and what she has done to help me through this degree - from giving me time to complete coursework, to just being there when I felt completely burnt out. The amount of work she put in with our kids and with me was no small feat.” Corley said. “And, I am sure it sounds corny, but it is never too late to learn more or return to school.”
A portion of the ceremony was dedicated to the Paul “Dee” Causey President’s Award. Each year, the award honors the memory of an SJR State alumnus whom Pickens described as not only his mentor, but a fearless athlete, dedicated family man and successful businessman. “Dee Causey loved the underdog, and he loved nothing more than helping the underdog succeed,” Pickens said.
This year, Pickens presented the award to two graduates - Luis Gonzalez and Alexa Gregory.
After nearly 10 years of setbacks and challenges, Luis Gonzalez has earned his Associate in Arts degree. According to math professor Thomas Flanagan, who nominated Gonzalez for the award, Gonzalez is an example of SJR State’s most resolute students. “Over the years, Luis has been a familiar face on campus… He is a student struggling, working to realize his potential. His resilience never wavered,” Flanagan said in his nomination letter. “Somehow, with multiple part-time jobs, despite and through it all… never placing blame or anger, Luis had a goal and he stuck to it. I have learned from him what it truly means for me, as a teacher, to be proud of a student in the moment of their achievement.”
Nominated by sociologist professor Julie Blanco-Davila, Alexa Gregory grew up in a home full of chaos and uncertainty. In her nomination letter, Davila explained how Alexa’s biological parents, both dealing with substance abuse, often left her to care for her younger siblings. She eventually landed in the foster care system, separated from her sisters she had mothered most of her childhood until she was adopted by Kevin and Lynne Gregory. “As a result, she is pursuing a career in criminal justice where she can help people who find themselves in situations of need.”
Weston Christopher William Von Meier
During the ceremony, Weston Christopher William Von Meier of Palatka was presented with the Valedictorian Award. The award is given based on grade point average and difficulty of courses. While earning his A.A. Degree, Von Meier also worked as a math tutor on the Palatka campus. He plans to attend the University of Florida in the fall to major in electrical engineering.
Putnam County native and SJR State alumna Roshonda Phillips, DNP, was the commencement speaker. Phillips is the recent recipient of the LeRoy Collins Distinguished Alumni Award presented by the Association of Florida Colleges. She holds a Doctorate of Nursing Practice from Jacksonville University and is the National Program Manager for the Department of Veteran Affairs Central Office. Previous roles include chief nurse for quality improvement and nursing excellence at James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, as well as various teaching positions, and global medical mission trips that serve underprivileged women and children.
During her address, Phillips shared her story of personal and academic triumph that began over 20 years ago with the decision to earn her GED through SJR State. Phillips would continue her education earning her A.S. Degree in Nursing at SJR State before ultimately earning her Doctorate of Nursing Practice.
Photos from graduation can be found on the SJR State flickr page
Watch the fall 2023 graduation ceremony