Corrine Van Stralen initially was skeptical about participating in Pasco-Hernando Community College's commencement ceremony after she earned her GED.
She had been home-schooled since third grade, which is why she took the alternative route to a high school diploma.
The 20-year-old Hudson resident wasn't sure how much it was worth celebrating.
"At first I didn't think it was too big an accomplishment," Van Stralen said. "I was slightly embarrassed by it."
Her mother kept pressing the issue, though, and Van Stralen relented.
On Wednesday, a year after she earned the GED, she joined other graduates for the first of two commencement ceremonies held on the college's New Port Richey campus.
The morning ceremony was for students earning associate of science degrees, associate of applied science degrees, applied technology diplomas, certificates and GED diplomas.
The afternoon ceremony was for associate of arts degree recipients.
Between the ceremonies, PHCC dedicated the newly christened Rao Musunuru Art Gallery in the Alric Pottberg Library. The art gallery is named for the chairman of the college's board of trustees.
This likely won't be the last time Van Stralen dons a cap and gown on the PHCC campus. She already has finished one semester of classes toward an associate of science degree.
She wants to become a dental hygienist, which will require another two years of schooling past the associate degree.
Lois Henton, a language arts professor who is retiring after a 35-year career with PHCC, told Van Stralen and the other graduates that they had been "studious and tenacious" as they worked to achieve their goals.
"You have endured the rough terrain and passed those demanding classes," she said.
Musunuru, who also is a cardiologist at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, challenged the students to help others who face obstacles in life. He also offered practical advice that could improve their chances of not visiting the hospital.
"Please don't use cellphones while you're driving," Musunuru said. "Believe me, the talking can wait."
Connie LaMarca-Frankel, president of the faculty senate, said that "it takes determination, hard work and sacrifice to get an education."
She said she purposely didn't use the past tense.
"Your education never stops," LaMarca-Frankel said.
Lauren Pardue, an honor student who spoke at the morning commencement, was home schooled like Van Stralen and said she was nervous when she arrived at PHCC because she was not accustomed to classroom life.
"To put it plainly, I was terrified," Pardue said.
One of her early lessons at PHCC, she said, was that the staff is devoted to "each and every student's success."
Almost 300 degrees and certificates were conferred during Wednesday's ceremonies. About 1,173 summer and winter graduates were eligible to participate, but not all choose to do so.