Monday, May 28, 2018
Education

USF St. Petersburg graduates hundreds, honors Rick Baker

ST. PETERSBURG — Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker received the University of South Florida St. Petersburg's highest honor Sunday night, awarded as the university christened more than 400 new graduates.

It granted Baker the Chancellor's Award for Civic Leadership for outstanding contributions to the community during his two terms as mayor beginning in 2001. During Baker's terms, he renovated the building where he accepted his award — the Mahaffey Theater — brought hotels to the city and relocated the Salvador Dalí Museum.

"The vibrant and engaging city we all know and love today is the direct result of the visionary leadership of Rick Baker," said USFSP regional chancellor Sophia Wisniewska.

After leaving office, Baker became vice president for economic development for USF and president of the Edwards Group, which, among other projects, manages the Mahaffey.

Baker offered two thoughts to graduates:

"Keep learning your whole life," he said, dressed in a green graduation gown, "and never let anyone tell you that you can't do anything."

About 250 of the graduating students attended the ceremony. Inside the circular concert hall, March No. 1 — the graduation song — was piped in as everyone took their seats.

Then Judy Genshaft, president of the USF system, mentioned a couple of graduates who came to or returned to USF later in life so they could accomplish long-planned goals. One was a law enforcement officer and mother, who returned mid-career to earn her bachelor's degree.

The other was Sandi Phillips-Ford, who in her early 60s was one of the oldest graduates (the oldest was 70). Phillips-Ford began her studies at USF 45 years before. She graduated with her 24-year-old son, Alex Ford.

Phillips-Ford said when she was a junior in high school during the 1960s, the governor of Florida sent her a letter, declaring her in the top 3 percentile of students statewide. With a full-ride scholarship attached, she planned to attend college.

"Then I found out I was pregnant," she said.

At that time, if you were a young pregnant woman, you weren't allowed to attend high school, Phillips-Ford said. So she put off her plans of college.

In 1968, she enrolled at USF's Tampa campus when her son, Dean, was just 2.

"Then life got in the way," she said.

Dean graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1989, and Phillips-Ford planned to re-enroll. Then, once again, she became pregnant.

Over the years, the single mother has slowly taken a night class here and there, but finally completed requirements for her bachelor of science degree — which happened to be at the same school, and same semester as her second son, Alex, who graduated with a degree in English literature.

"We didn't really plan to graduate together at all," Phillips-Ford said.

The realization first hit them after Phillips-Ford spoke with her counselor this semester.

The degree was more symbolic than anything, she said, because she has had a job in accounting for decades. She and her son chose not to attend Sunday's ceremony.

Maybe she'll study for the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination so she can open her own office, she said. If for nothing else than to set a new goal.

"I feel like what else do you do if you're not working toward something," she said.

The graduates marched across stage. Parents and family cheered, hollered and clapped after each new name called.

At the end, Genshaft walked to the lectern and said, "please move your tassels to the left."

   
Comments
Sparks fly among Hillsborough School Board members as private messages are leaked

Sparks fly among Hillsborough School Board members as private messages are leaked

TAMPA — Somebody got into Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively’s Facebook account, copied her messages and gave them to a newspaper publisher who is a friend of her rivals on the board.The posts discussed politics and power struggl...
Published: 05/25/18
Eckerd College student who fell before graduation has died

Eckerd College student who fell before graduation has died

ST. PETERSBURG — An Eckerd College student who was critically injured last weekend during an accidental fall on campus shortly before she was to graduate died today, the school announced.Rebecca Ryan "Becca" Lavin-Burgher would have graduated with a ...
Published: 05/24/18
Updated: 05/25/18
A school resource officer allegedly told a gay student she would go to hell. Now he’s going away.

A school resource officer allegedly told a gay student she would go to hell. Now he’s going away.

The stares and whispers started on the first day of school more than two years ago, when Liv Funk and Hailey Smith silently declared their relationship in the halls of North Bend High School by holding hands.They knew coming out would be hard in the ...
Published: 05/24/18
What is a college’s responsibility to parents when a student is suicidal?

What is a college’s responsibility to parents when a student is suicidal?

CLINTON, N.Y. — In the days after her son Graham hanged himself in his dormitory room at Hamilton College, Gina Burton went about settling his affairs in a blur of efficiency, her grief tinged with a nagging sense that something did not add up.She fi...
Published: 05/24/18
Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

TAMPA — Teachers in Hillsborough County came closer on Wednesday to reaching an agreement with the school district that would give them most, but not all of the pay they expected this past year.The deal, if it happens, will end a year-long conflict t...
Published: 05/23/18
Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

NEW PORT RICHEY — The line snaked through the hallways and into the cafeteria, as the Ridgewood High faithful waited for their chance to secure a piece of the school’s 40-year history.They came by the hundreds — current and former students, staff and...
Published: 05/23/18
Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

TAMPA — The pain of the Parkland shootings Feb. 14 was fresh on the minds of Hillsborough County’s graduating seniors when about 300 of them received an assignment. Write a 250-word essay on how decades of school shootings have touched y...
Published: 05/23/18
Company in charge of Hillsborough substitute teachers weighs in on problem cases

Company in charge of Hillsborough substitute teachers weighs in on problem cases

TAMPA — The company hired by the Hillsborough County School District to fill more than 170,000 substitute teaching shifts every year is defending its record, saying it works to get to the bottom of allegations against employees, treat them fairly and...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/25/18
Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

WEEKI WACHEE — A 16-year-old was arrested Tuesday on allegations that she created a fake social media post threatening to shoot students at Weeki Wachee High School, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said the 16-year-old told...
Published: 05/22/18
Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District and its teachers’ union moved closer to resolving their salary dispute during Monday’s negotiating session — but stopped short of reaching an agreement.The teachers, who have spent this school year work...
Published: 05/21/18
Updated: 05/22/18