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USF graduates take center stage

BRADENTON — Raising six kids and simultaneously earning her bachelor’s degree was a challenge for single mom Katrina Anderson.

But the 33-year-old Bradenton mother’s efforts proved worthy Sunday afternoon.

“It was rough, but I did it — with honors!” exclaimed Anderson, who stood beside her children dressed in a black cap and gown outside the Manatee Convention Center in Palmetto.

She was one of 311 University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee students receiving their degrees Sunday.

“Your degree means a lot,” USF President Judy Genshaft told graduates as their families, friends and loved ones looked on inside the convention center auditorium.

“Everyone of you in your own way has helped to enrich our campus,” Genshaft said. “I know the University of South Florida is a better institution because of your interaction with us.”

When Genshaft asked graduates’ friends and family to stand, the graduates applauded them for their love and support. The auditorium filled with cheers.

USF Sarasota-Manatee Student Government Association President Ashley Tyrrell then welcomed the students and presented campus awards.

SGA Vice President Jina Lyon received the Golden Bull Award for showing excellence in leadership activities, community involvement, university involvement and academic success.

Erika Szoke was recognized as a King O’Neal Scholar for a perfect 4.0 grade point average. She graduated with a bachelor’s of science in nursing.

State Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, who received his bachelor’s degree in business from USF in 1977, was the keynote speaker. All three of his children are also graduates of USF: Jill, 2001; Ron Jr., 2002; and Katie, 2005. Reagan congratulated the 2009 graduates on their accomplishments.

Anderson, who wore a golden-colored sash around her neck, was particularly proud.

She was one of six students recognized for outstanding achievement in their major at the College of Arts & Sciences. Also recognized were Katherine Bernal, social work; Courtney Innes, information technology; Jessica Lendermon, English; Kelsey Persons, psychology; and Evelyn Peters, history.

After receiving her criminology degree, Anderson was already thinking about the next step in her education: law school at Stetson University.