Pace Center graduates celebrate life-changing accomplishments

By Nick Blank nick@claytodayonline.com
Posted 8/3/22

ORANGE PARK – After a long journey, the caps still flew and diplomas were still distributed when Pace Center for Girls' class of 2022 was honored on Friday, July 29, at Highpoint Community …

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Pace Center graduates celebrate life-changing accomplishments

Posted

ORANGE PARK – After a long journey, the caps still flew and diplomas were still distributed when Pace Center for Girls' class of 2022 was honored on Friday, July 29, at Highpoint Community Church.

This is the center’s final graduation before it moves to a much larger space on College Drive. The room was packed with friends and families of the eight graduates who were honored, with one not attending.

Theresa Easton, the class salutatorian, thanked her class, teachers and all involved. Without their support, she wouldn't have made it this far, she said.

Easton said she spent only a year in conventional high school. Pace teachers and counselors assisted on her journey and made her a better person, she said. Her results improved dramatically with the change, Easton said.

“I was bullied and ignored by teachers and staff (in high school),” she said. “I wasn’t getting the attention I needed. My sister was a Pace girl and my parents decided I needed a different environment.”

Each graduate received a video recorded by staff members noting the accomplishment. Evening Allen said graduation brought everyone who impacted her together and she felt humbled by the occasion.

“I want to thank my teachers and counselors for motivating and pushing me,” Allen said.

Samantha Green said the best thing she was taught was to “advocate, advocate and advocate” for herself. She added there were feelings of anger and anxiety before she found Pace.

“Little did I know Pace was exactly what I needed,” she said. “I fast-paced my education and volunteered in my community.”

Pace Clay Executive Director Christina Helbling congratulated graduates.

“We’re here today to celebrate every one of you for your amazing accomplishments,” Helbling told the small group.

Mary Marx, the CEO of the Pace program for more than a decade, was the keynote speaker. Marx led the organization to rapidly expand in the past few years. Marx read the name of each girl graduating and listed their future plans.

“There’s a lot you might be stressed out about because this is a big change,” Marx said. “Change is hard.”

Her first lesson for graduates was to make their own choices, not what someone else wanted for them. She also said work is hard and it’s meant to be.

“You know that each of you worked hard to get here,” Marx said. “... Take a deep breath, this is a challenging time in your life.”

In closing, Clay County Emergency Management Director John Ward said he was honored to serve as Pace Clay's board chair. He asked the graduates to show perseverance when faced with barriers, admit mistakes when necessary and live a kind, focused life.

He asked them to step out of their comfort zones and embrace change.

“Use these strengths as a foundation, to be strong, confident and contributing members in your community,” Ward said. “Act with integrity and positive intent.”

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