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PHCC graduates overcome obstacles to celebrate success

Pasco-Hernando Community College will hold its spring commencement on Wednesday, May 1, in the Physical Education Center at the West Campus in New Port Richey, 10230 Ridge Road. Two separate ceremonies will accommodate a growing number of graduating students and their families and friends. Those not able to attend, but interested in viewing the ceremonies will be able to watch the events live streaming on the Internet at

The commencement ceremony for candidates earning their Associate in Science (AS) degree, Applied Technology diploma, certificate or GED will be held at 10:30 a.m. The ceremony for candidates earning their Associate in Arts (AA) degree will be held at 4 p.m.

This year’s graduates include several determined students and those who have overcome adversity to achieve their academic goals.

Wendy Downey, 56, of Port Richey, earned an AS in Medical Laboratory Technology in 1980, however her career was put on hold when in that same year her son was injured in a motor vehicle accident requiring around the clock care. Now, after a 29 year academic hiatus, Downey will graduate from the Nursing (RN) ADN Transition program with an AS degree in nursing. Downey said, “A quote by George Eliot is what has carried me through my time at PHCC, ‘It is never too late to be what you might have been.’ ” Nursing is at the core of her family—Downey’s mother and younger sister graduated from the RN program at PHCC in 1994; her youngest sister is a graduate of the PHCC LPN program. Downey is a member of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) and Psi Beta honor societies and was selected as a Who’s Who among Students in American Universities and Colleges

Jesse Balogh, 19, of Webster, will receive his AA degree with a 4.0 GPA. He was the 2012-2013 PHCC East Campus Cru (Christian fellowship club) President, East Campus Student Government Treasurer, and member of PTK and Phi Beta Lambda honor societies. Balogh is an independent violin instructor and volunteers at Awana Club at Blanton Baptist Church and Love One Another Ministry of FBC, in Dade City. In 2012 he completed an internship with Awana International where he assisted the Executive Director in traveling to Myanmar and India. Balogh plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting at Saint Leo University.

Melva Davies, 58, of New Port Richey, found that raising children, moving and job transfers were no longer reasons to postpone her educational goals. Davies, who works full time as a financial aid specialist at PHCC, will graduate with an AS degree in office administration. Davies, a member of PTK, has a 3.9 GPA and graduates with honors. She and her husband of 30 years have five children and seven grandchildren.

Sophea Danh, 22, of New Port Richey, is a member of PTK who will receive an AA degree. Speaking English as her third language, she first translates from her native Cambodian language to Vietnamese then to English. Danh’s family moved from Cambodia to Lowell, Mass., where many friends spoke Cambodian and there was little need to fully adopt the English language. Danh moved to Florida in 1999 and with help from friends and PHCC instructors, her English skills improved. Through her culture, Danh felt obligated to work to help the family pay bills, yet her family insisted she enroll at PHCC. She recently passed the U.S. citizenship exam and soon will be awarded full U.S. citizenship. While she waits to hear of her acceptance to PHCC’s RN program, Danh continues her work as a volunteer at a local nursing home and enjoys playing tennis and teaching tennis to children. Danh’s American dream is to become a registered nurse, a pro-tennis player or a tennis coach.

Arlene Wenderoth, 39, of New Port Richey, will graduate from the Nursing (RN) ADN Transition program with an AS degree in nursing. Wenderoth has been an LPN for 14 years, having worked at Morton Plant North Bay hospital for the past 10 years. Wenderoth, who entered the RN transition program at the prompting of a co-worker said, “I wanted to be a nurse as long as I can remember. My mother is a retired LPN and I have always wanted to follow in her footsteps. Nursing is who I am.” She has three sons, one of whom also is a student at PHCC. Wenderoth plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Leslie Meyer, 31, of Holiday, will graduate with an AS degree in paralegal studies. The decision to go back to school came in 2010 after a job layoff and unsuccessful job search. The sudden death of her ex-husband, three weeks prior to the start of Meyer's first semester in August 2011, left the family devastated and Meyer, a single mother of two daughters, with no income. “I wanted to show my daughters that no matter what happens in life they can still achieve their goals,” said Meyer. A member of Psi Beta National Honor Society and Legal Eagles club, Meyer’s future plans include pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in criminology at USF, then a Juris Doctorate from Stetson University. Meyer recently accepted a position with the office of Attorney Douglas C. Zahm in St. Petersburg.

Graduation speakers will include: District Board of Trustees Chair Rao Musunuru, M.D.; Michelle Beermann, Faculty Senate President and Assistant Professor, mathematics; Reflections Speaker, Burt Harres, Ph.D., Vice President of Instruction and Provost, West Campus; and Student Speakers Jesse Balogh and Wendy Downey. Approximately 374 degrees and certificates will be conferred at the ceremony. An estimated total of 718 spring graduates are eligible to participate, 408 of those representing Associate in Art degree recipients.

Release date: 
April 23, 2013
Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications