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IRSC Spring 2019 Commencement: Profiles in Perseverance

IRSC Spring 2019 Commencement: Profiles in Perseverance

April 30, 2019 Suzanne Seldes

During the 2018–19 academic year, Indian River State College awarded 2,282 Associate in Arts degrees, 594 Associate in Science or Associate in Applied Science degrees, 802 Bachelor’s Degrees, and numerous certifications. This next generation of business leaders, educators, healthcare professionals, engineers and more have persevered through every one of life’s challenges.

In celebration of the May 2019 graduating class, we share a sampling of inspiring stories from your Treasure Coast neighbors and new IRSC alumni.

IRSC graduates celebrate their acheivment at commencment.


“If someone would’ve asked me when I was 17 and pregnant and in my senior year of high school, where I saw myself in 10 years, I would’ve never imagined saying to them ‘a college graduate,’” says Ivelisse Nunez of Fort Pierce.

Unemployed and a single mother, Ivelisse struggled financially, yet her motivation for a better life for her son drove her to do better, to be better, and to succeed. Unemployed, she began her educational journey at IRSC in August 2017. With the support of her mother and son, and IRSC Advisor Simone Griffith, with whom she credits unwavering belief in her ability to persevere, Ivelisse walks across the Commencement stage on May 2, earning her Associate in Arts Degree and ready to begin her Bachelor’s Degree program at IRSC in Fall 2019.

“In May of 2018, two weeks after completing Nurse II, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer,” confides Annee Hood of Port St. Lucie. “Surgery was in June and I started chemotherapy in July.”

Annee will graduate from the IRSC Associate in Science Degree in Nursing—Registered Nurse program and is an exemplar of the Pioneer spirit. A true profile in perseverance, after her diagnosis Annee enrolled in the IRSC Virtual Campus, allowing her to complete online courses in the summer and rejoin her nursing class in the fall. Faculty arranged for makeup days for in-service clinical requirements missed during the weeks in which she had chemotherapy. Annee earned an A that semester and is graduating on time with her classmates on Friday, May 3.

“I made my mind up to quit school and return back to the gang culture,” reveals Josue Daceus of Fort Pierce. “But he listened to me that day I needed someone the most.”

Josue is talking about Cavosky Brutus, IRSC financial aid advisor and Josue’s mentor since 2015. Since that pivotal moment Josue has come to realize that, as he says it, “Education is Life.” Fast forward to 2019—Josue himself is a peer mentor and an outstanding student leader who serves in various organizations on campus, including Collegiate DECA, Haitian Cultural Club, Investment Club, Flag Football League, and is President of the LEAPers Club (Leadership, Empowerment, Achievement, & Persistence). He has the will and desire to make a difference, not only in his life but also in the lives of those around him. He graduates on May 3 with his Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and plans to continue his education at Florida Atlantic University.

“After graduating high school in 2005, my dreams of pursuing higher education had been stumped due to my immigration status, “ recalls Magali Ramirez Catano of Vero Beach. “I want to let everybody who knows me and has cheered me on through this process know that I am extremely grateful for their belief in me because that made a world of difference for this DREAMER.”

Magali would not begin at IRSC until 2012 when DACA (Deferred Action of Childhood Arrival) passed. Now this first-generation college student could pursue her dreams. She walks across the stage on May 3 to collect her diploma—grateful to her husband, parents, and sister who provided moral, economic and emotion support along the way, and to the IRSC Physical Therapy Assistant Department faculty and her fellow classmates with whom she has developed an indelible bond and friendship.

“Indian River State College gave me the opportunity to accomplish one of my greatest dreams in life,” declares Guadalupe Garcia of Okeechobee, “Since I was a young girl I dreamed of a career where I would be able to help other people. In this college I get the opportunity to learn not only a career but also to learn my second language, English.”

New to the United States, Guadalupe set goals and was dedicated to seeing them through. She began at Indian River State College to learn English. Then, with the help of a cousin and close friend, she visited the Assessment Center at the Dixon Hendry Campus and in 2012, after studying three days per week for an entire year, Guadalupe sat for her GED test, which she passed. She then enrolled in the IRSC Associates in Arts Degree Human Services track, graduated, and in 2017 began her studies as a Baccalaureate Degree student. With her B.S. in Human Services in hand, Guadalupe will now journey into the job market and put her education to work.

“This journey of gaining my Bachelor’s Degree has taken me over 20 years,” shares Marcus Grant of Port St. Lucie. “Life threw me a lot of curve balls but I persisted.” 

In 2018, Marcus had an opportunity to teach graphic design. This chance to combine his passion with a desire to help the next generation became “the ultimate catalyst” to finish his degree.  He worked very hard over the past year to complete all of his remaining classes, setting an example to his children and to the children that he works with. With his IRSC Bachelor of Applied Science in Digital Media, Marcus personally demonstrates what can be accomplished with dedication and perseverance. Marcus works as a Graphic Design Instructor at the Batt School in Jupiter and is also Director of the Graphic Design Impact Center at Hibiscus Children’s Center in Vero Beach. He intends to pursue a Master’s Degree of Fine Arts in Graphic Design.

“As it turned out my oldest daughter and I got our A.A. degrees the same summer,” says Sara Bartl of Vero Beach. “We then both applied to IRSC Health Science programs—me to the nursing program and her to the respiratory program—and were accepted, which put us on track to graduate at the same time.”

In 2000, Sara began her journey back to school at IRCC (now IRSC) at 22 and pregnant with her second child. She finished the LPN part-time program in 2005 as a single mom of two girls and working full-time at what is now Indian River Medical Center. Sara later remarried, left the workforce and had two more children. After observing an accident, she was compelled to go back to school and earn her Associate in Science Degree in Nursing. On May 3, she walks across the IRSC Commencement stage with her eldest daughter.

“Before attending IRSC, I was home schooled my entire life,” shares dual-enrollment student, Jacob Baird of Port St. Lucie. “Upon beginning my first semester in the fall of 2016, I was fairly nervous about my chances for success.”

As a high school student taking college-level courses, Jacob was concerned as to how he would interact with his professors and fellow students. He cites his academic and social growth as key underpinnings for his success at IRSC. Jacob will earn his Associate in Arts degree from IRSC and plans to enroll in a Bachelor’s Degree program at the College.

“IRSC winning the Aspen award has shaped the national dialogue about community colleges and the academic power it possesses,” shares Devon Shpiruk of Stuart. “The take away for me is IRSC is dedicated to teaching us that every student can build on their strengths through hard work. To see that they themselves practiced what they preached is rewarding to see as I apply it to my approach to life.”

In May, the Clark Advanced Learning Center student will earn both his high school diploma and his Associate in Arts Degree from IRSC. Devon credits IRSC with pushing him out of his comfort zone and inspiring him to excel in college and master skills in leadership, knowledge, language, and technology—skills that will help him serve as a successful citizen. In April, Devon was the recipient of the IRSC Community Service Award for his role as a co-founder and president of Elev8Hope, a Martin County-based non-profit. Devon will attend the University of Florida in the fall with the goal of pursuing a law degree.

“With the loss of a couple of loved ones in my family, I needed the community of IRSC to grab a hold of my hand to keep me strong and motivated, and for that reason I was able to prevail,” says Sabby Hightower of Vero Beach.

After an undergraduate career filled with personal loss, challenges, and what for others could have been unsurmountable obstacles, Sabby Hightower graduates from IRSC with her Bachelor’s Degree in Healthcare Management and is on her way to Florida Atlantic University to begin a Master’s program in Healthcare Administration this fall. She credits the IRSC community with “grabbing a hold of my hand” to keep her strong and motivated throughout. In addition to excelling in her studies—evidenced by securing two gold medals at the statewide Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA) Leadership conference—and raising young children, Sabby was extremely active in campus life. She served as vice president and parliamentarian of the Campus Coalition Government; served as a board member with the Collegiate DECA and with IRSC HOSA chapter; participated in the IRSC Emerging Leaders Program; served as peer mentor and educator in the Women of Color and Legacy Leaders programs; and welcomed prospective students during New Student Orientation as a Student Ambassador.

“The best things about attending IRSC are the programs and professors,” states LEAP program participant and IRSC graduate Saubrina Rondil of Port St. Lucie. “I honestly believe that IRSC sets their students up for success. They provide the resources and opportunities for each student to grow and evolve every aspect of their life.”

With the help of academic advisors and faculty members from the Indian River State College LEAP program, new students like Saubrina develop a solid academic and social foundation. Participants learn to handle the demands and challenges of college life, to make connections with college staff and faculty, to build positive relationships with other students and to prepare for academic success at Indian River State College or for transfer to a university upon graduation. After graduating IRSC with her Associates in Arts, concentration in Journalism, Saubrina will further her education at Florida State University where she intends to major in Media Communications Studies.

“It was great to experience that (higher education) opportunity earlier and to take college classes,” says dual-enrollment student Alia Gore of Jensen Beach.

This month, Alia will earn her Associate in Arts degree from IRSC in addition to her high school diploma. She heads off to the University of Florida in the fall to study biochemistry. She aspires to become a pediatric surgeon.

“I am proud to say I am a mother-to-be with a Bachelor’s Degree who did not let the struggle of finances or caring for my family get in the way,” shares Samantha Juerakhan of Palm City.

Despite family challenges and financial hardships, Samantha chose to go back to school in 2016 to earn her Associates Degree. Working full-time, she completed that degree in 2017 and with a keen focus on a pursuing career in law, Samantha next enrolled in the Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration: Public Policy and Leadership Concentration. By November 2018, Samantha and her husband were expecting their first child. Rather than become overwhelmed, a highly motivated Samantha increased her course load and fulfilled her academic requirements within a year and a half. She graduates from IRSC in May and expects to welcome a baby girl in July.

“I plan to work as a Respiratory Therapist at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center, declares Elizabeth Durassaint of Port St. Lucie. “I really want to work with babies in the ICU.”

Elizabeth graduates from IRSC with her Associate in Science in Respiratory Care. Her journey to Commencement was not an easy one. In November 2016, a homeless and pregnant Elizabeth worked full-time just to make ends meet. She went from one dead-end job to another. She miscarried her baby. Rejected and told “no” too many times, Elizabeth eventually found her voice—she refused to give up. Through the compassionate guidance of her counselors at the Indian River State College Chastain Campus and the caring of those at the Salvation Army, she returned to school in January 2017 at 37 years of age. Now, with her diploma in hand, Elizabeth begins a career in healthcare. She also serves as a volunteer with the Salvation Army where she encourages young women to go to school and build a better life.

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