FORT MYERS — Edison State College Staff Member Paula Dailey prepped graduates before the baccalaureate commencement ceremony with last-minute words of advice, such as remembering to slow down when walking across stage.
“This is more like a wedding than a race,” Dailey said.
But as the director of Student Support Services, Dailey knows that many of the students had to jump over numerous hurdles — such as disabilities and financial difficulties — to get their diplomas.
“For many of them, it has been a struggle,” Dailey said. “Many work full time and have families. They have a lot to overcome.”
The college conferred about 100 diplomas at the ceremony, which was held Wednesday night in the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers.
Graduate Chelsie Burlew, 21, is a single mother who obtained her associate of arts degree at Edison and chose to stay at the college because it lacked the possible distractions of larger universities.
“You don’t have all of the craziness going on,” Burlew said.
She completed the two-year early education program and hopes to work full-time for one of the local school districts.
“It’s good to know that I’m going to be able to … go out and change the lives of kids. That’s my passion,” Burlew said.
Burlew’s fellow classmate, Susie Rosabella, served as commencement speaker for the ceremony. During her speech Rosabella encouraged the graduates to let go of their insecurities and “live for opportunity.”
“I challenge you to take that leap of faith (that) we always encourage our friends to do but are to scared to take ourselves,” she said.
Rosabella was raised by a single mom and is the second person in her “large” Cuban and Italian middle-class family to graduate from college.
“My plan is to be the best I can be, be all that I can,” she said.
About 12 family members travelled from as near as Naples and as far away as New York to see Rosabella graduate.
Claude Salaun, her uncle, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and needed a wheelchair to be able to attend the event, called Rosabella an “inspiration.”
“She’s worked hard and she got it done. We are so proud of everything she’s done,” he said.
Rosabella will begin a full-time teaching job at Shadowlawn Elementary School in East Naples, where she is currently a student teacher, this fall. She plans to encourage her future third-graders to go to college.
“I want to instill that in them,” she said.
Dailey said Student Support Services connects degree-seekers with scholarships to help more students make it to graduation like Rosabella and Burlew, but she thinks students get a “great value” at Edison because tuition rates are lower there than at other institutions.
“We hope that many more students will take advantage of it,” she said.
In all, 148 students were awarded with bachelor’s degrees from the college this year.
Edison is one of 19 state colleges that has authorized by the Florida Legislature to offer bachelor’s degrees to “meet local and regional workforce demands,” according to the Florida Department of Education website.
Currently, the college has 10 baccalaureate programs on its own, and offers about 48 more through its partnership with eleven other higher education institutions, such as Barry University and Florida Gulf Coast University.
In April, the college broke ground on its first residence hall, a four story building that will house up to 404 students in four-bedroom suit-style units, in an effort to accommodate “out-of-area” students.