JUNE 2022

guest speaker Deana Waite
Margarita Irizarry
Erica Mulvihill

SJR State honors adult education graduates

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. It is a passage that graduate Margarita Irizarry, 32, of Interlachen knows well. The single mother of three has faced many challenges as a high school dropout, yet through the Adult Education program, she has learned how to set life-changing goals as well as set an example for her children, especially her 15-year-old son. “I want him to know that if you work hard and you push yourself, you can accomplish anything in life,” Irizarry told SJR State in an email.

During the program, Irizarry said she faced the typical obstacles many students face upon returning to school after a considerable absence. “One of my biggest challenges was getting used to having to juggle taking care of the kids, taking care of the house, working, and taking time out to study for my GED; not to mention it had been a while since I had been in school,” she said. Irizarry also learned a great deal about herself as a student. “I learned not to procrastinate,” she said. “There’s no better time than now.”

With her high school equivalency diploma in hand, Irizarry said she now pictures her future self as a professional woman succeeding in a field that impacts people’s lives - a goal that becomes more possible each day since earning her GED and enrolling in SJR State’s medical office administration program. “I like the diversity in the healthcare field. There are different specialties within the field,” she said. “I want to be part of a team that works together to make a difference in someone's life.”

During the ceremony, 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. “We celebrate your dedication, grit and hard work,” Perry told the graduates. “We recognize the hours and sacrifices you made in pursuit of your goal. I’m so inspired by you.”

Perry presented Jena Nicolas Deleon Guerrero with an SJR State scholarship for her individual, academic and career-planning goals, and for achieving honors scores on the GED exam. Guerrero plans to enroll at SJR State to pursue her Associate in Arts degree. Her ultimate goal is to become an English professor.

Erica Mulvihill, 32, of East Palatka, delivered the student address. She relayed how she spent years wanting to earn her GED, but didn’t know when she could take the time. “I’m blessed with the opportunity to get an education,” Mulvihill said. “I only wish I had taken it more seriously when I was younger. Now I share with my children the importance of an education.”

“Education is more than just reading books and passing tests. Education is freedom. Knowledge is power,” she continued. “Education provides skills, financial freedom… and the opportunity to contribute to your community in a productive manner.” Mulvihill plans to enroll in the College’s emergency medical program this fall.

The guest speaker was Deana Waite, Ph.D., Director of State and Federal Reporting at Florida State College at Jacksonville. During her address, she shared how her own journey as a high school dropout was plagued with many obstacles and dead-end jobs. “Twenty-eight years ago, I never thought I would be living this life today.

“I am third-generation poverty… and I was able to break that generational curse because of the decision I made to get my GED.”

Waite described how her childhood dream of becoming a teacher slowly faded away because of her environment and circumstances. She said she was repeating the “cycle,” being “taught” how to rely on welfare, until she made the decision to break the curse. Waite said she felt somewhere deep down that she deserved more and that something inside her was driving her to do better. Something was telling her, “You can do better than this,” Waite said.

Waite closed her speech by sharing her last minute decision to wear her formal regalia to the ceremony. “They need to see the little girl from the projects with a GED who went and got her doctorate degree,” she said.

The 2021–2022 graduates are Rebecca Anderson, Daylen Arnold-Voytek, Keith Bailey, Keith Bancalari, Cassidy Baugh, Sophia Burnham, Kadence Causey, Zaylee Collins, Matthew Cooper, Erin Crean, Emilia Cruz-Bautista, Commodry Darthard, Jena Nicolas Deleon Guerrero, Michael Gore, Aaron Holland, Margarita Irizarry, Robert Moore, Alexis Mullins, Erica Mulvihill, Liliana Perez, Luis Perez Robledo, Taylor Pugh, Steven Redish II, Emily Rivera Mijangos, Lamontiaz Slocumb, Destiny Smith and Miranda Tucker.

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

2022 Adult Education graduation

Graduates participating in the 2022 Adult Education graduation are first row, from left: Erica Mulvihill, Margarita Irizarry, Emilia Cruz-Bautista, Alexis Mullins, Brigitta Illes and Taylor Pugh. Second row, from left: Jena Nicolas Deleon Guerrero, Steven Redish II, Aaron Holland, Tammy Harris, Commodry Darthard, and Matthew Cooper.



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