SJR State honors graduates

SJR State Graduate collage

St. Johns River State College celebrated its Fall Commencement on December 16, honoring the 600+ 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. In total, the graduating class included students ranging in age from 17 to 50 and beyond, dual enrollment graduates, as well as EMT and nursing graduates. Many were the first in their family to graduate from college.

SJR State President Joe Pickens, J.D., introduced the guest speaker, John Avendano, president and CEO of Florida State College at Jacksonville. Avendano is a first-generation college student for whom English is his second language, and is a proud product of the community college system in Illinois.

Avendano asked the graduates to imagine what future contributions could be made to their community and to society as a whole. “Focus on all the amazing things you can do in the future, regardless of your program of study….and please aim high,” Avendano said. “You can accomplish anything you set your mind to, so shoot for the high bar... strive for excellence in everything you do.”

During the ceremony, Abegayl O’Hara of St. Johns County, was presented the Valedictorian Award. The award is given based on grade point average and difficulty of courses.

A portion of the ceremony was dedicated to presenting 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.

Pickens presented the award to St. Augustine campus student Esther Simon. When Simon was six years old, she and her family moved to the United States from Haiti, finally settling in North Florida, where she would graduate from St. Augustine High School. Her journey required learning the language and acclimating to the culture. “For myself, the educational aspect of being in the United States allowed me to thrive to my fullest potential,” Simon said in an email to the College.

Simon will transfer her Associate in Arts degree to the University of Florida, where she will major in biology before applying to medical school. “In general terms, the condition of Haiti's healthcare is what got me interested in pursuing medicine,” Simon said. “After the passing of my late aunt, Rachel, I figured that there must be more feasible ways to improve the quality of healthcare for underrepresented populations like Haiti, and I could do so by pursuing medicine.”

“If someone believes that education is too difficult for them to obtain, my recommendation would be to take a step back and realize that life is like one big school,” Simon continued. “Everyone is a student and, its lessons are constantly coming our way every day. The pop quizzes of unforeseen circumstances can be daunting. But life is a process of learning that involves every human being regardless of background. When it comes to pursuing formal education at an institute like SJR State, it's vital to realize there are a host of advisors ready to help you plan your goals, alongside the faculty and staff present to cheer you through the finish line.”

Among the graduates was Korey Lebrasseur, 37, of Clay County. After working as a nursing assistant for 21 years, her certificate in Emergency Medical Technician brings her one step closer to becoming a flight medic. After balancing work, school and homelife, Lebrasseur plans to enroll in SJR State’s paramedic program next year. When asked where does she see herself in 10 years, she replied, “On a helicopter, taking care of the critically ill.”

Also among the graduates was Kinsey Tilton, of Putnam County. This single mom, who earned her A.A. degree juggling a full-time job, speaks candidly of her many struggles, as well as her perseverance. “I became a single mom at the age of sixteen and told myself no matter what, I will make it to college and get a degree of some sorts,” Tilton said. “The biggest struggle of all was dealing with the stress. I wanted to give up so much, but I knew I needed to make something of myself. I had one amazing support group behind me that pushed me to do my best.”

Tilton plans to enroll in SJR State’s radiologic technology program in 2022, attributing her sister’s ocular melanoma diagnosis as her inspiration to pursue a career in the medical field. “I was fascinated at how they (radiologic technicians) could see each individual spot of cancer that surrounded her eye. They were able to catch the spots due to a PET scan,” she said. “I want to go into radiology to help people fix their health problems like they helped my sister.”

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.



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