PALMETTO -- Getting a perfect 4.0 grade-point average during your entire career at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee is a difficult enough accomplishment, but Bradenton's Matthew Bertrand did it while working full time as a Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputy, training for marathons and being an involved dad.
Bertrand decided to go back to college at age 38 and took day, weekend and online classes to earn his bachelor's degree in psychology in five years while working the 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift in the patrol division. He also trains often as a road racer and plans to compete in his fourth Boston Marathon in April. His personal best time in the marathon is 2 hours, 51 minutes. His best half marathon is 1 hour, 19 minutes.
Bertrand was one of three students and a professor who received special recognition during Sunday's USF Sarasota-Manatee fall 2015 graduation at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto.
Bertrand was awarded the King O'Neal Scholar Award which is given to graduating seniors with 4.0 overall grade-point average.
Never miss a local story.
He graduated along with 229 others and before a crowd of roughly 1,100.
"It was work, school, study, eat, sleep, run," Harmony Bertrand said of her husband's daily schedule. "I kept all the loose ends together."
Matt Bertrand credited his wife and children, Libby, Michelle and Dolph, with helping reach all his dreams. He is the first person in his family to earn a bachelor's degree.
"I had a lack of focus as a younger person," the 6-foot-7 Bertrand said Sunday of his late start. "I really didn't know what I wanted to do."
"I really owe it to my family," Bertrand added. "Harmony and my kids were all in university the same time I was, and they all motivated me. It was quite a challenge, but Harmony stepped up and helped so I could focus on school."
"Matt stepped into his role of parent and never looked back," Harmony Bertrand said.
Fellow student Ashley Metelus was named the Outstanding Graduate at the commencement.
The Golden Bull Service & Outstanding Leadership Award went to Amber Haller and outstanding professor went to Dr. Jean Kabongo.
Kabongo has encouraged his students to develop entrepreneurial projects within local communities. His award was given by students. Metelus twice traveled to Uganda as part of a research effort, interviewing child survivors of Uganda's civil war. She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in interdisciplinary social sciences. Haller was a student government senator and president of both the Criminology Club and Matadors' co-ed softball team. She is an officer in the Adventure Club and Box Office Bulls Club and has worked with the Campus Activities Board, Habitat for Humanity and Relay for Life to raise funds for cancer research.
Haller graduated with a bachelor of arts in criminology studies. She hopes to pursue a master's degree in criminology at USF Tampa next fall.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.