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Couple Graduates Together at SPC

Mary and Richard Cackling | St. Petersburg College | Education

They started college together in 1978, but life happened. They graduated from St. Petersburg College on Saturday with 1,947 other students.

ST. PETERSBURG – Mary and Richard Cackling met in 1976 and have not left each other’s side since that day. And, at St. Petersburg College’s spring graduation ceremony Saturday (May 12), that held true as they walked side by side to claim their bachelor’s degrees, his in Sustainability Management and hers in Business.

“It was love at first sight,” Mary Cackling said.

The couple, who run a cat rescue and sanctuary in Gibsonton called Gardenland Mission, started college together at Hillsborough Community College in 1978. But then, according to Richard, “life happened,” and school fell by the wayside. Richard spent years running his own business, while Mary worked in the business world until her mother needed care, and she quit her job to be with her. When Mary’s mother passed away, the two began thinking about what would be next.

“She decided to enroll at SPC,” Richard Cackling said. “So I decided to do it too, and finish what we started 40 years ago.”

The Cacklings were two of 1,949 students graduating with degrees and certificates at SPC’s 136th commencement. It began with an invocation from the Rev. Kenneth F. Irby of Bethel AME Church. That was followed by the national anthem led by SPC Professor Nathan Muehl and his music students, the St. Petersburg College Band, and vocalist Gianna Gagliardotto.

SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams welcomed guests, then recognized and thanked instructors, noting the crucial role they play in the lives of students.

Tonjua Williams | St Petersburg College | Education
Tonjua Williams

“They are committed to teach, nurture, and guide our students on a daily basis,” Williams said. “Thank you, faculty, for investing in our students, for lifting them up and significantly contributing to student success.”

Williams recognized student achievements, including veterans, Honors Program graduates, Honor Society members, and those graduating with Honor, Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude and Summa Cum Laude distinctions. Williams even gave a shoutout to those graduating with “Thank you, Laude!” distinctions.

Some of the grads were collecting their college diplomas before they had their high school diplomas in hand. The 187 Early College graduates were high school students who were dually-enrolled in their junior and senior years. St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, which has earned an A from the state of Florida every year since it opened in 2004 and was named a 2017 Exemplary High Performing National Blue Ribbon School, also graduated their seniors with associate degrees.

Ken Burke, Chair of SPC’s Alumni Association, presented the Apollo and Alumni Achievement awards to this year’s winners, who are chosen for leadership ability, scholastic standing, community service, honors, and awards.

The Apollo Award, the highest honor an associate degree graduate can achieve, has been presented annually by the SPC Alumni Association every year since 1966. This year’s winner, Joey Bower, graduated Cum Laude with his Associate in Science Degree in Technology Management and a 3.55 GPA.

Bower said he was not the average student.

“I’m also a full-time employee, a husband to a beautiful and supporting wife, the first college graduate in my family, and the father of a special needs son who requires 24/7 care,” he said. “I’m also a high school dropout who obtained his GED.”

Bower said he was inspired to go back to school by his father, who frequently urged him to form a good work ethic, telling him that everything he’d ever have in life would have to be earned. After seeing his father struggle to maintain a career in his 50s without a degree, Bower decided to get his. Bower doesn’t know exactly what his future will hold, but he does expect to have a positive impact on the lives of others.

“I don’t have the secret or the magic trick,” he told the audience as he closed his remarks. “But if I can leave you with any advice, it would be to never give up.”

The annual Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor a bachelor’s graduate can achieve, is presented annually by the SPC Alumni Association. This year’s winner, Amanda Hunt, graduated Summa Cum Laude with B.A.S. degree in Management and Organizational Leadership and a 4.0 GPA.

Hunt graduated with an Associate Degree from St. Petersburg College in 2003 before becoming a Christian missionary. During that time, she got an idea for creating a nonprofit, so she enrolled in a Business Management Bachelor’s Degree program at SPC.

“I realized further education could greatly benefit me in this pursuit,” Hunt said.

While working on her bachelor’s degree, Hunt won the Jane Till nonprofit competition with a business plan presentation for her nonprofit idea, United by Love, which connects people and resources to nonprofits doing good in local communities. She expressed her appreciation for the support she received.

“Thank you to all the people who have helped me along my studies, most notably the St. Petersburg College Foundation and its donors, Women on the Way, and the amazing faculty and staff at SPC,” she said.

Hunt closed her remarks by encouraging the audience to do good things in the world.

“Sometimes one minute is all it takes to brighten someone’s day, give them a hand, or even save their life,” she said. “My message to you today is to always remember to slow down a little and take that one minute.”

After hundreds of graduating students had walked across the stage, Williams asked families and friends to be recognized for their support of the graduates. With the ceremony held the day before Mother’s Day, she gave a special thank you to mothers.

“I know there have been times when you felt that none of your hard work and support of these graduates was appreciated or even noticed. But here you are – and here they are – and these graduates did appreciate you and they did notice you.” Williams told them. “The college appreciates you.”

The Cacklings left graduation to head home to a big party with lots of friends and family ready to celebrate their successes. Mary Cackling was recently named COO of the CORE Foundation, a non-profit cat rescue out of Washington, DC, and was awarded a private contract for work with the Xerox Corporation, which provided a nice raise upon completion of her degree.

“That’ll buy a lot of cat food,” she said.

Photo of Mary and Richard Cackling courtesy of St. Petersburg College.

St. Petersburg College | Education | Graduation | Tonjua Williams | Ken Burke | Tampabay News

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