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Soon-to-be PHCC grads ready to show what they know

On Wednesday, a sea of gold and black will float through the gymnasium at River Ridge High School.

At Pasco-Hernando Community College's graduation, 336 students will receive degrees.

Some will start careers, go to four-year universities, move out of state and get on with the business of life.

Carol Albanese will pursue a calling. Albanese, 34, a military veteran, mother and wife, wants to teach troubled middle school kids.

Tesheena Pinder, a 22-year-old Freeport, Bahamas, native and softball player, aspires to return home to become a mortician.

Here's a snapshot of the journeys they took to get their degrees.

• • •

Albanese was only 9 when she decided to join the military.

Coming from a family of veterans, she felt she had a legacy to uphold. Her grandfather was in the Korean War. Her great-grandfather was in World War II. Her dad was in Vietnam. Two uncles served in the U.S. Army.

Albanese also wanted to see what the world had to offer outside of Austin, Texas, where she grew up.

Strong-willed, Albanese also had another motivation to join the Army.

"I asked an uncle if I should do the Army or the Air Force," she said. "He said, 'Women don't belong in the Army.' When he said that, it became my goal to prove how much we don't belong."

During her eight years in the Army, Albanese was a supply specialist, working in a warehouse dispatching parts for military vehicles.

Albanese met her first husband, Glen Hobbs, in the Army. They married and had two daughters.

Years later, they divorced. Albanese settled in Texas and eventually married Wes Albanese, now a government contractor in Afghanistan who fixes Humvees.

Hobbs eventually moved to Hudson, splitting custody of their girls with Albanese. Soon, Albanese decided she wanted to be closer to her girls, so she and husband, Wes, moved to New Port Richey.

All the while, though, something was missing.

Albanese always knew she wanted to go back to school, and soon, she would have her chance: Her husband said she could quit working as a receptionist so she could go to college full time.

"It's something I always wanted to do," she said. "I chose PHCC because I decided if I was going to do it, I wanted a smaller school. I wanted one-on-one training."

Albanese enrolled in 2005, and chose education as a major. A few months ago, she decided what subject she wanted to teach after observing a social studies teacher in an eighth- grade class at Hudson Middle School.

She told the teacher about some of the kids in her neighborhood whose lives lack order. The ones who sometimes stop by to do homework at Albanese's house. She told the teacher that in addition to social studies, she wants to help kids like them.

"He said, 'I normally don't do this because it usually scares everybody away, but would you like to observe the dropout prevention program?' " Albanese recalled. "As soon as I walked in, I knew it was something I wanted to do."

Albanese will graduate with a 3.6 grade point average, earning her a spot in PHCC's Phi Theta Kappa honor society. Her husband is coming home to see her graduate.

Next, she plans to get a master's degree from Saint Leo University.

Albanese and her daughters, 12 and 13, couldn't be happier.

"The best thing for me is that it's really brought my daughters very close to me," she said. "Seeing what I've done, they are very into school now."

• • •

When an international recruiter approached Pinder about attending PHCC three years ago, the Bahamas native had never heard of it.

At the time, Pinder, shy and soft-spoken with dreadlocks she pulls into a ponytail, was playing night-league softball.

She wanted to go to college, but didn't want her mother, who raised seven children, to foot the bill.

"I told them I'd go to the first school that approached me out of high school," Pinder said. "My mom was happy because she wanted me to get an education."

So in 2005, Pinder left home on a student visa and headed to Florida to play softball on a two-year scholarship.

She moved into a New Port Richey apartment where other softball players lived and commuted to campus. She chose business as her major.

By the time she arrived in the United States, her career goals had already been decided.

"We did job training in high school, and I was joking with a teacher that I wanted to go to a funeral home," Pinder said.

The teacher took Pinder's suggestion seriously, taking her class on a trip to see the inner workings of a funeral home. They watched someone dress the bodies and do embalming.

Some shied away from the work. But Pinder was hooked.

"There's not many people who want to be morticians," she said. "But they make good money. I want to work on the faces of the people's relatives and make them happy."

Eventually, Pinder took a job with PHCC's athletic department as a student assistant. She cleaned the weight room and videotaped games during men's basketball season.

But outside of work and softball, Pinder was homesick. She missed her small nephews, ages 4 and 13 months. And she missed conch fritters, a shellfish delicacy of the Bahamas.

Pinder talked to her mother every night, sometimes for hours. "I know that she has my back," Pinder said of her mom. "She says, 'Do what makes you happy but try to better yourself.' "

Pinder's mother and a few aunts will head to Florida to attend her graduation. Afterward, they will drive to Fort Lauderdale and take a cruise ship home to the Bahamas.

Pinder said she'll miss her teammates, but she's excited about college coming to an end.

"Words can't express it," Pinder said, a smile spreading across her face. "It's like, 'wow.' I've been away for so long, and now it's going to pay off."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

>>if you go

The big day

Pasco-Hernando Community College's graduation ceremony will be at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at the Jim Valentine Athletic Complex at River Ridge High School, 11646 Town Center Road, New Port Richey.

Soon-to-be PHCC grads ready to show what they know 04/28/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2008 2:24pm]

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