Clay County students earn degrees at St. Johns River State College

Posted 5/13/21

ORANGE PARK – St. Johns River State College celebrated its Spring Commencement on May 7, honoring the students who earned their associates and bachelor’s degrees or college certificates. More …

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Clay County students earn degrees at St. Johns River State College


ORANGE PARK – St. Johns River State College celebrated its Spring Commencement on May 7, honoring the students who earned their associates and bachelor’s degrees or college certificates. More than 300 of the 700-plus graduates participated in the ceremonies held at the Thrasher-Horne Center located on the SJR State Orange Park campus.

The spring graduation was presented in three ceremonies in order to accommodate graduates and their guests with proper social distancing. During his first address to more than 100 high school seniors who earned their Associate in Arts degree, SJR State President Joe Pickens told the graduates that they were among one of the most significant audiences in which he had presided over. “You’re making history for many reasons,” Pickens said. “This is, I believe, the first college graduation ceremony in the history of the state of Florida that is exclusively consisting of dual enrollment and collegiate high school students… You would not be here today graduating without the partnership that we share and appreciate with our K12 partners in Clay, Putnam and St. Johns counties.

“All of you have overcome things you never imagined. What do you say to a group that has overcome what you have overcome? No one had a pandemic in their plans.”

Pickens shared how he asked the attending school superintendents Rick Surrency of Putnam County and David Broskie of Clay County to choose one word to describe the graduating class. The word was perseverance. “Thank you,” Pickens told the graduates. “Thank you for persevering.”

Each graduate this spring has his or her own story of personal growth, perseverance or career changes to share. In total, the graduating class included students ranging in age from 17 to 50 and beyond, 192 dual enrollment and collegiate high school graduates, as well as EMT, nursing and radiologic technology graduates. Many were the first in their family to graduate from college.

Among the graduates was Justin Carter, 25, of Clay County. Employed as a piano mover at a local business, Carter enrolled in SJR State’s radiologic technology program. His passion for technology combined with the satisfaction of helping others in a healthcare setting came into play with him choosing this field. “Nearly all my closest friends are employed in the healthcare field, and their job satisfaction is what initially interested me in this field,” Carter said.

Carter said his favorite part of the radiologic technology program has been clinical studies. “It has been such a wild ride to apply what we learned through working in real hospitals with experienced staff,” he said. “I learned exactly how adaptable I can be. I was stunned when I walked into an operating room for the first time. About four hours later, I was assisting surgeons with seeing what they were working with. It still blows my mind.”

Believing that he’s “crazy enough to change the world,” 17-year-old Jarahn Johnson is certainly on the fast track to impacting society, including becoming a neurosurgeon. After skipping the sixth grade; writing a book, “The Cave,” which is available on Amazon; representing Clay County as a Florida 2020 Sunshine State Scholar; being a College Board National African-American Recognition Program Scholar; earning a Second-Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo and more, Johnson has clearly connected to the core of his potential – early!

A dual enrollment student from Oakleaf High, Johnson said he purposely pursued the rigorous classes along his academic journey. “The chance to earn my A.A. at the age of 17, as well as reduce my future collegiate course load, was an opportunity that I could not pass on,” Johnson said.

Johnson is headed to Cornell University this fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences on a pre-med track. He then plans to attend medical school in preparation to become a neurosurgeon.

Ten years from now, Johnson sees himself as a neurosurgery resident with two to four scientific research publications in both basic research and applied research associated with his name. He also plans to have written at least one more fictional book within the decade.

Although he says he’s crazy enough to believe he can change the world, he added that he’s also “aware enough to realize that no one has ever accomplished anything worthwhile without a team,” adding, “I see my future team making a global impact on the healthcare system, which is currently flawed in many countries. Additionally, I believe that with my future team, we can produce cutting edge medical devices and groundbreaking procedures.”

Attending SJR State became a reality for De’Vonte Jackson after an Oakleaf High teacher encouraged him to apply for the Collier-Blocker In-District Scholarship for minority students. “At the time, Mrs. Novelly was like a mother to me… a walking angel,” said Jackson, adding, “It was such a blessing to be given an opportunity to expand my knowledge instead of my plans to join the military just to be out on my own with no other options or plans.”

Jackson plans on continuing his journey of becoming the best version of himself.

“A better Christian, a better man, valuable to my community and family, and financially free,” he said. Furthering his college education is not out of the picture, but for now, he plans to continue diving into his self-learning about trading currencies, stocks and other finance-related areas. He also sees himself writing books.

“Throughout my time in college, humanities, psychology, education psychology and even composition [classes] motivated me to want to learn and understand people, the world, and how we all are different but connected. I want to be able to write books on love, passion, understanding, and our mind's way of thinking. Ideally, becoming a therapist and author would give me a platform to begin with, or even something as simple as a blog or page where I can connect and communicate with others with the same purpose in mind. I love to help people, whether it be homework or problems at home that need work,” he said.

The Thrasher-Horne Center is owned and operated by SJR State and is located on the Orange Park campus at 283 College Dr.

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.


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