SJR State honors GED recipients with drive-thru ceremony

Adult Ed Graduates

The Adult Education department at St. Johns River State College recently held a drive-thru and virtual graduation ceremony to honor those who earned their State of Florida high school diploma.

The 2019-20 graduates include Mary Beth Aldridge, Alexandra Apostolos, Gracie Bagwell, Marcus Bailey, Mary Jane Burls Young, Brandon Campbell, Timothy Cason, Slaydrain Clay, Jennifer Cooper, Karen Cummings, Veronica Diaz, Sandra Gallagher, Devin Gorman, Dominique Gorman, Holly Hackney, Amber Jones, Sebastian Klein, Jonathan Laastad, Tyler Marston, Bertha Myles, Mike Paulino, Melany Rondon, Joseph Schwartz, Katelyn Scott, Autumn Skeen, Nicole Soles, Savahna Thomas, Codi Wade, Jayla Williams, and Kierstyn Yarboro.

In addition, two Adult Education students, Sebastian Klein and Katelyn Scott, were awarded SJR State scholarships for their individual, academic and career-planning goals, as well as achieving honors scores on the GED exam.

Prior to the celebration, Dean of Adult Education Melissa Perry wrote to the graduates, “Passing the GED is a significant accomplishment that we look forward to celebrating with you. Although COVID-19 prevents us from having the type of graduation ceremony that we normally hold, it is important that we acknowledge your achievement and provide your family and friends with the opportunity to see you in your cap and gown as you receive your diploma.

Adult Ed Graduates

Nine of the 30 graduates participated in the drive-thru ceremony, where families were able to socially distance as their graduates were recognized. A previously recorded “virtual” celebration was also made available to the graduates following the ceremony and included remarks from College administration and student speaker Veronica Diaz.

During her speech, Diaz shared the challenges she faced during her attempts to juggle GED classes while raising four children. One of the biggest obstacles she said she faced was second-guessing herself. “That’s going to happen to any of you guys,” she said in the video. “You’re gonna be stressed out, but … don’t give up. Keep pushing yourself until you reach your goal.”

“I made myself proud and my kids proud, which teaches them don’t give up on anything that they do in life,” Diaz continued. “Getting the diploma is probably the best thing you could do to better your life.”

Diaz said she looks forward to continuing her education at SJR State by enrolling in the LPN program.

Adult Ed Graduates

The virtual commencement guest speaker was SJR State alumna Roshonda Phillips, whose story of personal triumph begins as a high school dropout. Phillips ultimately earned a doctorate of nursing practice, and she currently serves as the chief nurse for quality improvement and nursing excellence at James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa.

Verbally taking the graduates with her on a mountain hike during a medical mission trip to Peru, Phillips-Watson said, “One trip provided me with three valuable lessons I want to leave with you...”

The first lesson: “Being ready is not the same as being prepared,” Phillips-Watson explained, recalling the elements she hadn't accounted for during her first-time hike up a mountain. “I was ready for the trip, but I wasn't prepared for the journey,” she said. “It is good to be ready, but I’ll have you remember, it’s better to be prepared.”

Emphasizing the importance of continuing to move toward goals, even when the target seems so far away, the second life lesson Phillips-Watson imparted to the graduates was to keep moving. “Regardless of the challenge, whether it’s your educational goals, your career plans or your dream job, you've made it this far. You’re almost there; keep moving...”

Thirdly, in spite of setbacks and slower paces getting to this point, Philips-Watson encouraged the group to still take pride in their success. “Celebrate your success. You've earned it,” she reminded the graduates. “You have climbed this mountain. However, this is merely the first of many achievements to come. Run your own race. Set your own course. Purse your own dreams, and reach the top of your mountain. Congratulations!”

SJR State’s Adult Education program helps students prepare for the Florida high school diploma through self-paced and computer-assisted instruction, use of textbooks and handouts, along with 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


Student speaker, Veronica Diaz.

Former Putnam County resident and SJR State alumna Roshonda Phillips served as the graduation’s guest speaker. Phillips shared her story of overcoming adversity by earning her GED and ultimately earning her doctorate.



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