MANATEE -- Jason Pfeilsticker was stunned Friday night when he won the Outstanding Graduate Award at State College of Florida’s Winter Commencement held in Neel Performing Arts Center.
But the 20-year-old who graduated from Lakewood Ranch High School in 2009 perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised.
While other students might unwind with a video game or two in their spare time, Pfeilsticker uses his precious extra moments to dream of how he can change the world.
“I want to do research in energy technologies,” said Pfeilsticker, who intends to take the two-year associate’s degree he just earned to the University of Florida, where he will study chemical engineering. “If I could tell America what to invest in right now, I would say bio-solar technology, which is, basically, solar from plants.”
One day, if Pfeilsticker has anything to do with it, Americans will be driving “Pfeilstickers,” a car he said he wouldn’t mind taking a shot at designing.
“The car’s electric battery could be charged by solar panels whose energy source is photosynthesis,” Pfeilsticker said.
“That would be great,” Pfeilsticker added when asked how he would react if one day he heard teenagers say, “I drive a ‘Sticker’ ”
228 walk the stage
Two ceremonies were held at SCF, at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., to accommodate the 228 graduates who participated out of 974 eligible for graduation.
In addition to associate degree graduates, the numbers include 22 Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduates.
“We have had 39,000 graduates in our 54-year history,” a proud SCF president Lars A. Hafner told the combined crowd of 1,600.
For his commitment to youth and education, Manatee County Circuit Judge Edward Nicholas, who currently serves in the Juvenile Division in Manatee County, received the President’s Award of Distinction from Hafner.
Nicholas, who has a unique connection to SCF, was also the guest speaker Friday.
Nicholas is the stepson of Dr. Sam Neel, the founding president of SCF, which was then Manatee Junior College. Neel is the namesake for the Neel Performing Arts Center.
Nicholas’ mother, Eleanor Neel, who attended the graduation, was a single mom raising six children when her husband died suddenly. She married Neel at age 32.
Nicholas told the graduates that his mother preached education and wouldn’t have her children go forward without it, something the judge still preaches.
“My mom raised a doctor, two CPAs, a high school teacher, a bank president and a judge,” Nicholas said. “Not bad for a single mom.
“I’m going to give you a bit of a judicial order,” the judge told the graduates. “Always be advocates of education. Stay as convinced throughout your life as you are now as to the value of a good education. Also, do me a favor and thank those who helped you. You didn’t get here alone.”
Three Bradenton finalists
There were five finalists for the Outstanding Graduate honor, including Brad Trotter and Regan Hooper of Bradenton, Jason Patry of Venice and Manuel Giraldo of Englewood.
Hooper, 22, a soprano vocalist, received her associate’s in music and is headed to the Berklee College of Music in Boston to study electronic production and design. She took advantage of every opportunity she could at SCF, including performing as Cinderella in the play “Into the Wood.”
“My true role models are my teachers, Melodie Dickerson and Martha Lopez,” Hooper said.
Hooper, who graduated from Lakewood Ranch in 2007, loves to listen and perform jazz and R&B.
“One of my favorite performers is Mika, I love his stuff,” Hooper said. “I hope in my career to perform, work as a sound engineer and one day open my own studio.”
Trotter is a perfect example of a student who wasn’t quite ready for college after high school, so he served six years in the U.S. Air Force.
“Being in the service taught me about discipline and the value of an education,” Trotter said. “I didn’t have that before. I just wasn’t motivated.”
Now, Trotter is heading to the University of South Florida, where he plans to pursue a degree in computer science with a minor in math.
Trotter’s dream is to work for the National Security Agency as a computer network operator.
And, by the way, just like Pfeilsticker, Trotter is an inventor.
He makes his own Trotter dark malt beer.
“I was stationed in Germany,” Trotter said with a laugh about his five-gallon batches that take six weeks to prepare. “I couldn’t find it over here, that certain dark brew filled with a hoppy taste so I decided to make my own.”