ST. PETERSBURG — Chandra and Joseph Rodino sat beside each other Sunday evening in the cushy seats of the Mahaffey Theater — part nervous, part overjoyed.
Married for 15 years, they yearned to hear their names called, one after another, to prove their accomplishment.
It had taken them three years and then some. There were sleepless nights while they juggled jobs, schoolwork and a teenage son. And then the daughter, now 22 months, coming 13 weeks early and spending 82 days in the hospital.
Finally, Chandra and Joseph Rodino's names were read aloud at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg's 48th commencement Sunday evening. Wearing black caps and gowns, the St. Petersburg couple earned bachelor of science degrees in business management.
"We did it," Joseph Rodino, 41, said, with a huge smile. "It was a lot of work and a strong test for us, but we did it."
"I can just scream right now," Chandra Rodino, 35, said. "It's an accomplishment and I can show my children that no matter what, you can go back and accomplish something."
The Rodinos were among the 5,705 students from 45 states and 97 nations who have received diplomas from the University of South Florida system since Thursday. In addition, 43 graduates were commissioned as officers in the U.S. armed forces.
Sunday at USF St. Petersburg, there were 47 masters candidates and more than 250 undergraduates to receive diplomas.
USF system president Judy Genshaft encouraged graduates to thank their families, while noting USF's $3.7 billion yearly economic impact on Tampa Bay.
Genshaft also recognized the mothers in crowd: "For Mother's Day, what could be a better present than graduation?" she asked to rousing applause.
For the Rodinos, who work at the AAA Auto Club South, the day was about setting an example for their children.
"Hopefully, with both of us working to get college degrees, it will give our children the additional drive and motivation to be successful," Joseph Rodino said.