Florida Southern College Gathers Classes of 2020, 2021 for In-Person Spring Commencement

May 18, 2021

by FSC Staff
FSC photos by Jordan Weiland

On May 15, Florida Southern College marked its 137th year of commencements with a modified in-person ceremony to honor the academic successes of the Class of 2021 and the Class of 2020, whose members were invited to come back to campus for special recognition after their graduation ceremonies were held virtually because of COVID-19.

Kerr Commencement
Florida Southern College President Dr. Anne B. Kerr

“Today is a special and unique occasion,” said Dr. Anne B. Kerr, president of Florida Southern College, in her welcoming statement. “It marks the first opportunity that we have had to gather in person to celebrate the educational achievements of graduates since the coronavirus pandemic began a little more than a year ago.”

Approximately 125 graduates from 2020 returned to FSC to participate in the commencement ceremony, and more than 500 graduates earned their degrees in spring 2021. Dr. Kerr praised the extraordinary talents and resilience of both groups: “The graduates in the Classes of 2020 and 2021, in varied ways and by many means, will have a transformational impact on society.”

Keynote Speaker Dr. Mae Jemison

Senior Speaker Jillian Kurtz of Longwood, a graduating communication major, served as editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper, The Southern, and as an anchor and reporter for FSC-TV. She also was a resident advisor and cheerleader, served as president of Lambda Pi Eta, and was a member of Zeta Tau Alpha. Following graduation, Kurtz will work as digital media coordinator for Zeta Tau Alpha’s international office in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Former NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison was the distinguished guest speaker for FSC’s 2021 Spring Commencement. Dr. Jemison also is well known for her prolific accomplishments as a scientist, physician, educator, author, and entrepreneur. She founded the non-profit Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence and established its international science camp for students age 12 to 16, The Earth We Share. Dr. Jemison holds an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Florida Southern, conferred upon her in 2019 when she spoke at Florida Southern’s Founders Day Convocation and served as the College’s Honorary Chancellor.

The commencement ceremony also highlighted several outstanding graduates who were awarded special student honors:

  • Anya Larson of Spring, Texas, and Cesar Maldonado of Naples, Florida, were recognized as Fulbright recipients. Both graduated in spring 2020. Larson will teach in Spain, and Maldonado will teach in Taiwan.
    • In an earlier announcement about Fulbright recipients, Dr. Beth Gibbs, associate professor of music and director of choral studies at FSC, was selected to receive a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award for Teaching. She will work as an instructor and collaborate with conductors and regional choirs in Spain in spring 2022.
  • Morgan McDermott of Cape Coral, Florida, a member of the Class of 2021, was recognized as the recipient of a Boren Scholarship. The Boren Awards-funded study-abroad program allows undergraduate students to study languages and cultures in world regions critical to the interests of the United States. McDermott applied for Mandarin Chinese language studies in Taiwan.
  • Onosetale Ijewere of Lakeland – originally from Lagos, Nigeria – was the recipient of Florida Southern’s highest student award, the Honor Walk Award, which recognizes notable achievements in academics, leadership, and student involvement. A 2021 graduate with a nursing major and minors in biology and chemistry, she has served as one of the College’s Southern Ambassadors, as president of the Multicultural Student Council, and as vice president of the Student Government Association’s Diversity and Inclusion Council, also chairing the SGA’s service committee. This year, Ijewere implemented a highly successful cultural dance class.
  • Lindsey Wilson of Chandler, Arizona, was named as recipient of the 2021 President’s Scholar Medal for superb academic achievement. Wilson graduated as a computer science major with a concentration in web and cloud computing. The President’s Scholar Medal is awarded in recognition of a student’s academic record and for demonstrating great promise for future success.

Faculty award:

  • Dr. Brad Hollingshead, provost and vice president for academic affairs, presented the Miller Distinguished Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching to Dr. An-Phong Le, associate professor of chemistry, department chair, and The Dr. John A. Leighty Endowed Chair in Chemistry. This annual award honors a faculty member who has achieved excellence in teaching, active learning, scholarly productivity, and advising.
Anya Larson
Cesar Maldonado
Morgan McDermott
Onosetale Ijewere
Lindsey Wilson
Dr. An-Phong Le
Members of Florida Southern’s spring 2021 graduating class gathered outside Jenkins Field House for their May 15 commencement ceremony.
In her message to classmates, Senior Speaker Jillian Kurtz said "We must push forward with grace, compassion, and resilience."
On stage
Molly Berend, daughter of FSC alumnus and Trustee Dr. Keith Berend ’92, crossed the stage in the Hollis Wellness Center to receive her diploma.
Onesetale Ijewere, recipient of the 2021 Honor Walk Award, celebrated with her parents, Dr. Patrick A. Ijewere and Sherese Ijewere. 
Holding diplomas
President of the Association of Campus Entertainment, Lucas Blackwell, and theatre performance major Lyndsey Ruiz displayed their diplomas.
Group photo
Emma Davis celebrated Commencement with her mother, Barbara Davis, from left, her grandmother and former first lady of FSC, Phyllis Davis, whose late husband Robert Davis served as president from 1976 to 1994, her maternal grandmother, Kay Willman, and her father, Lakeland City Attorney Palmer Davis.
Among those celebrating on May 15 were 2021 graduate Mariah Sampson, from left, former Student Government Association President Arjeet Tiperneni ’20, and outgoing Student Government Association President Madelyn Walsh ’21.
Diploma walk
Diploma walk 2
Four grads
Three grads
Cap designs