DECEMBER 15, 2022
SJR State honors graduates
St. Johns River State College celebrated its Fall Commencement on December 15, honoring the 570+ students who earned their associates and bachelor’s degrees or college certificates. Each graduate has his or her own story of personal growth and perseverance. Approximately 133 graduates participated in the ceremony held on the Orange Park Campus.
SJR State alumni and Palatka Police Department Chief Jason Shaw was the commencement speaker.
Ellen Rose Jackson, of St. Johns County, was presented with the Valedictorian Award. The award is given based on grade point average and difficulty of courses.
Among the graduates were Delton Nealy Sr. and Delton Nealy Jr. of Palatka. The father and son duo consider achieving this milestone together a “blessing.”
At 46, Delton Sr. told SJR State in an email, that he finally realized that “preaching higher education” to his children would have more of an impact if he lead by example. “That’s when I sought out ways to better myself so I could be somewhat of an example for Delton Jr. and his sisters,” he said.
Delton Sr., who believes that “age is just a number,” enrolled in the College’s A.S. Degree in Engineering Technology program and began to enable bigger and better opportunities for himself at Georgia-Pacific.
“I had been a shift supervisor in the pulp, power and recovery department at Georgia-Pacific for over 10 years. I thought I had closed myself into this role, with nowhere to go, and I would end up being a career supervisor,” he said. “But with the maintenance and mechanical learning from my degree, it enabled me to open myself up to bigger and better opportunities. Since receiving my degree, I have moved into a maintenance planner role… and I really enjoy what I am doing.”
It is an opportunity that Delton Sr. believes may not have happened without his degree. “My wife has encouraged me to return to school for years, but I kept telling myself that I didn’t have time,” he said. “In reality, I had to make time for what was important. Furthering my education was important to me and my family.” Delton Sr. plans to continue his education at SJR State with a business management certification.
Delton Jr. said the opportunity to graduate with his father has been surreal. “It’s kind of like I am dreaming, because it’s like I’m watching an older version of me graduate from college,” he said. “I am very proud of my dad, my hero.”
With his Associate in Arts degree in hand, Delton Jr. plans to pursue additional training in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). “I like mechanical projects and I enjoy hands-on work,” Delton Jr. said. “As a kid, I helped my dad fix almost everything around the house. I enjoy the challenge of figuring things out, so I feel this career path is perfect for me.”
In 10 years, Delton Jr. hopes to own his own company, to be involved in his community, and pay it forward by mentoring local youths.
Also among the graduates was Na’Teria Hamilton, 32, of Palatka. The single mom of three juggled working full time with her classes in pursuit of a better life for her family.
In an email to the College, Hamilton described a journey filled with obstacles and sacrifices.
“It has taken me 11 years to receive my A.A. degree, but through it all, I can finally say that I did it. I can finally put a smile on my face and show my kids and anyone else that giving up is not an option and staying determined is the key,” Hamilton said.
“I have been through a lot in my life,” she continued, “And I know there is someone out there who is or may be going through what I have gone through, and I want to be able to help or make a difference for them to choose a better path. When you are trying to do better in life and make the right choices, you are going to have things happen or hit you all at once.”
Hamilton’s next step is to pursue her bachelor’s degree in sociology. In 10 years Hamilton sees herself owning her own salon, as well as mentoring women who are experiencing domestic violence.
“I am here today to tell you that giving up is not an option,” Hamilton said. “Stay determined, and no matter how many times you stop, and no matter how old you are, you can finish college and build a brighter future for yourself or your family.”
St. Augustine graduate, Simplice Sourou, 55, originally from the Ivory Coast of Africa, earned his bachelor’s degree in organizational management. The former table tennis champion and coach moved to St. Johns County eight years ago with his family in pursuit of becoming an entrepreneur.
“I realized I knew nothing about money, about business. Luckily, I still enjoy learning something new,” he said in an email to SJR State. “In 10 years, I will still be growing, serving or helping talented men and women provide great products or services to the world while building great memories with our respective families.”
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 Clay County graduate Sabrain Edwards, who lost his mother while completing his bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. “During my time in college, I have gone through seasons where everything in my life was put together and in order. Then there were seasons when things fell apart and everyday felt like a struggle,” Edwards said. “The biggest obstacle that I had to go through, and I am still going through it, is the death of my mother. Anything that I set out to do and accomplish, I shared with my mother. My biggest motivator and critique, my mother sacrificed a lot for me during her time as single mother. I could have been another statistic, but she is the one who keep me from that. Anything that I am and will become is because of her love, prayer, and care for me.”
In addition to earning his degree, Edwards also served as the president of the Student Government Association and was instrumental in establishing the Students Focused on Christ Club on the Orange Park Campus. Edwards begins his teaching career in January as a third-grade teacher at Argyle Elementary.
During the ceremony, President Pickens bestowed the designation of emeritus status upon Melissa Miller, former senior vice president, for her 30 years of distinguished service, honoring her leadership, dedication and loyalty.
During her tenure, she helped lead the College in its immense growth that encompassed academics, facilities, technology, and the arts. Her leadership has included the birth of the workforce programs and the introduction of baccalaureate degrees.
Dean of Florida School of the Arts, Alain Hentschel, was also bestowed the designation of emeritus status for his 13 years of distinguished service, honoring his vision and dedication to shaping the next generation of artists.
A portion of the ceremony honored employees who retired in 2022, including Patti Cason, FloArts administrative assistant (22 years) and Kathy Crawford, assistant registrar (11 years).
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.
View additional graduation photos on our Flickr page