Main Content Start

Indian River State College Celebrates More Than 2,000 Graduates at Fall Commencement Ceremonies

Indian River State College Celebrates More Than 2,000 Graduates at Fall Commencement Ceremonies

December 14, 2023 Jon Pine

FORT PIERCE, FL—Indian River State College conferred 962 Associate degrees, 468 Bachelor’s degrees and 640 certificates and advanced technology diplomas at three boisterous and well-attended Fall 2023 commencement ceremonies on Wednesday, December 13 and Thursday, December 14, at the Havert L. Fenn Center in Fort Pierce.

Photos by James Crocco, IRSC Staff Photographer

“Ladies and gentlemen, today is a very special day for our college and a very special day for our graduates,” said IRSC President Dr. Timothy Moore. “What makes us great is our students. Our story is your story. The positive work that we can do in your lives and for your story makes us who we are.”

College event staff warmed up the crowd prior to the start of each ceremony as they entered the Fenn Center launching T-shirts into the crowd with air guns as popular music blared from P.A. speakers. The Ceremonies started with select graduates carrying the College and Military flags to the stage as IRSC President Dr. Timothy Moore introduced them and shared their stories. Elizabeth Flores carried the College flag and Kendal Keller carried the Military flag for the Associate in Arts Degree Ceremony on Wednesday morning. Sydney Adams carried the College flag and Kendal Keller again carried the Military flag for the afternoon ceremony honoring recipients of Associate in Science and Associates in Applied Science degrees and certificates, diplomas, and G.E.D.’s. Valerie Delgado carried the College flag and Nicholas McMahan carried the Military flag for Thursday’s Bachelor’s Degree ceremony.

Next, faculty and administrators were ushered in and, moments later a roar rose from the crowd as IRSC’s number one Pioneer, the peregrine falcon mascot, led the processional of graduates into the hall and to their seats. A recording of Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” performed by the IRSC Instrumental Ensemble echoed throughout the hall, setting the tone for the grand celebration. Some students festooned the mortar boards of their caps with ribbons, flowers, feathers and other celebratory embellishments.

IRSC Financial Aid Advisor Jasmine Bell Morgan then regaled audiences at all three ceremonies with her soaring rendition of the National Anthem. Pedro Sanchez, Student Government Association President at IRSC, provided an invocation dedicated to the memory of Frank L. Watkins, Jr., a beloved IRSC faculty member who passed away suddenly last July.

At both ceremonies on Wednesday, Dr. Moore introduced keynote speaker Dr. Melissa Kindell, an IRSC alumna and owner of Everglades Dentistry in Okeechobee who also serves as President of the Board at Martha’s House, a domestic abuse shelter in Okeechobee. Dr. Kindell also serves on the Executive Board of the Economic Council of Okeechobee.

“It’s moments like these that we will remember forever, when hard work and dedication results in palpable success,” Dr. Kindell told those gathered. “I haven’t won medals of valor in the face of combat. I haven’t invented a life-altering piece of medical equipment, nor have I saved anyone from a burning building. However … I have learned how to live my life, how to write my story, with intent and purpose.”

“This knowledge was not something I possessed when I was starting my journey,” she continued. “It was knowledge that I attained through interactions with mentors, multiple heartbreaks, successes and failures, in addition to old-fashioned experience.” Dr. Kindell then shared five “tried and true” rules that she follows to guide her in making decisions: 1. Don’t hesitate to face your fears; 2. Don’t be scared to fail; 3. Make decisions that will build the story you envision; 4. Don’t be intimidated by hard work; and 5. Contribute to legacies and create your own.

Kindell said she strives to contribute to the legacy of her father, who died of cancer before he could witness her graduate from dental school. “I pray daily that I continue to make him proud and make all of the sacrifices he made for me worth it.” The legacy she is building is something to leave for her two sons, who were in the audience listening to her speech. “What they don’t yet realize is that every decision and every sacrifice is ultimately for them. I want them to be proud of the life I have lived and the contributions I have made to the world.”

The keynote speaker for Thursday’s ceremony was Cheryl Turja, Head of Worldwide Education Sales and Customer Success at Adobe. Turja is a technology industry veteran with decades of experience leading teams and coaching individuals with worldwide responsibilities at Fortune 500 companies including Sun Microsystems, Oracle and Adobe.

Turja told about her childhood in Wisconsin, raised by parents who both battled mental illness and alcoholism. Her father succumbed to his illnesses, taking his own life when Turja was just six years old. Her mom became a second-shift assembly line worker for American Motors Corporation, attaching gas tanks to automobiles. This left Turja home alone and unsupervised much of the time, she said, a so-called “latchkey kid.”

“In a twist of fate,” she said, “the Social Security monies that we received from the passing of my dad, are what allowed me to go to college.” Turja obtained Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education Maranatha Baptist University. After graduation, she “took a leap of faith” and left Wisconsin for California. “It was there that I discovered my passion in technology,” she said. “Today, I hold what I believe to be the best job in the world: helping young minds nurture their creativity and story-telling abilities with Adobe.”

“The beauty and joy of life lies in the choices you make,” Turja told the graduates. “The world is your oyster. Which is to say, there will be many opportunities, which you have to go find. You will set goals, pursue dreams, and define your values—all while navigating this journey called life.

“Whatever career you choose, be intentional,” she continued. “Plan it. Write it down—I suggest you write it down in pencil, because careers are not always up and to the right. They can be bumpy. But 100% of those bumps will remind you to hold on with a light touch, because those bumps will pass. Those experiences will encourage you to appreciate the present moment.” 

After the speakers finished their addresses, Dr. Moore announced to the students that they are now graduates and instructed them to move the tassels on their caps from the right side to the left, according to tradition. And finally, graduates were brought onstage one-by-one as Dr. Moore and IRSC Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Heather Belmont conferred to them their diplomas, as parents also came up to take photos.

Stories about the challenges and triumphs of some IRSC graduates can be found online here:

About Indian River State College

A leader in education and innovation, Indian River State College transforms lives by offering high-quality, affordable and accessible education to the residents of Florida’s Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties through traditional and online delivery. The College serves more than 22,000 students annually and offers more than 100 programs leading to Bachelor’s degrees, Associate degrees, technical certificates and applied technology diplomas. Learn more at

New version available REFRESH  DISMISS