SARASOTA, Fla. (May 8, 2018) – The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee  on Monday night conferred 344 degrees – 301 bachelor degrees and 43 master’s degrees – from its four colleges: Liberal Arts & Social Sciences , Business , Science & Mathematics , and Hospitality & Tourism Leadership .
About 230 students participated in the two-hour commencement, the 69th in the campus’ history. Among the first to cross the stage was Gary Ernneus who received a master’s degree in criminal justice . Ernneus, who is visually impaired, briefly reveled in the moment at center-stage as many in the audience applauded.
A former corrections officer, Ernneus was blinded 10 years ago after an inmate attacked him at a prison outside Miami. He later sought help with his disability and enrolled in classes to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminology. On Monday, at the Bradenton Area Convention Center , he crossed another hurdle.
“To me, to come from where I’ve come from, to reach this point, it seems unbelievable,” he said.
Many other students also reflected on their graduation experience. Before the ceremony, Katelyn Barbosa, a candidate for a degree in marketing , talked about what she’ll miss most.
Like other students, Barbosa said she was grateful for USFSM’s small class sizes. The campus offers a low 14:1 student-to-faculty ratio to enable greater learning and a spirit of camaraderie with classmates and professors.
“I’m glad to be finished, but I’m going to miss it,” she said, adding, “I’m so nervous and excited, I still can’t believe it.”
Fellow graduate Alex McClure, a candidate for a biology  degree, echoed Barbosa’s comments.
“I was able to meet a lot of people and create a lot of friendships, even with my professors,” said McClure, who graduated magna cum laude. “I hope we stay in touch.”
McClure isn’t finished with his studies yet. He’s applying to medical schools and plans to take the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) this summer. His sister, fellow USFSM biology major Katie McClure, is set to graduate next year.
Graduate Daniel Slabaugh already has his future mapped out. The King O’Neal Award winner (for academic excellence) has been accepted to medical school at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic  Medicine (LECOM) in Lakewood Ranch. He starts in the fall.
“It’s hard to believe this is actually happening,” said Slabaugh, one of two undergraduates to win the award for achieving a 4.0 Grade Point Average during all four years of college.
“I’m definitely going to miss the friendships here,” he said. “The small class sizes.”
Alyssa Culver, who was earning a master’s degree in hospitality management , attended the ceremony with her boyfriend and parents, including her mom, USFSM gerontologist Dr. Kathy Black. Later, the family planned to celebrate Culver’s achievement.
The next day, she was heading to Scotland and Ireland for a vacation before returning to her job at a hotel in downtown Sarasota where she’ll continue to gain experience in hotel operations and management. She described the moment before graduation as “exciting,” although she’ll miss her classmates.
“We were a kind of close-knit group, taking the same classes together,” Culver said. “It was also very international with students from other countries. It was nice to be exposed to those other cultures.
“We really got to know each other,” she said. “I’ll definitely miss that part of it, and my professors.”
In addition to Slabaugh, other student award winners were Constanza Lanata (King O’Neal), Geborah Joseph-Smith (Outstanding Graduate), Carlos Moreira (Golden Bull Service and Outstanding Leadership Award) and Deborah Vaughan (Paul Searls Webecke Award). Dr. Jessica Grosholz and Dr. Jean Kabongo were named Outstanding Professors.