NEW PORT RICHEY — It took determination, mixed with time-management skills, for Tara Mills to finally earn her nursing degree from Pasco-Hernando Community College.
The 38-year-old graduate attended classes while working a job and raising four daughters who range in age from 10 months to 18 years. At least part of that time, her husband, Matthew, also was a student, attending college at Nova University in Orlando, where he finished in August.
And, yes, Mills was pregnant with that fourth daughter while she was working on the degree.
“I was quite busy,” she said.
That didn’t change much on graduation day Wednesday at PHCC’s New Port Richey campus. Beneath her traditional gown, Mills wore a nursing uniform because the nursing program planned a pinning ceremony for its graduates later in the day. She said she chose to study nursing because “I just really like the whole premise of nursing.”
“I find joy in helping people,” Mills said.
Mills, who lives in Spring Hill on the Pasco side of the county line, was one of 285 graduates who participated Wednesday in one of the college’s two commencement ceremonies. Nearly 1,200 graduates from the summer and winter terms were eligible to participate.
The morning ceremony was for students earning associate in science degrees, associate in applied science degrees, applied technology diplomas, certificates and GED diplomas. The afternoon ceremony was for students receiving associate in arts degrees.
“You have accomplished so much and are prepared to accomplish so much more,” Ed Blommel, a member of the PHCC Board of Trustees, told graduates at the morning commencement.
The 2013 winter graduates leave the college at a time when PHCC is at a crossroads. The college, which for four decades has awarded associate degrees, will start two bachelor-degree programs in 2014. In conjunction with that new mission, the Board of Trustees is expected in January to change the college’s name to Pasco-Hernando State College.
“That means you are the last class to officially graduate from Pasco-Hernando Community College,” Bonnie Clark, the provost for the Spring Hill campus, told the graduates. “You are the bridge from the past to the future.”
The students represented a variety of age groups and backgrounds. Student speaker William Yagmin said he had been out of high school more than 30 years when he enrolled in PHCC and nervously started his studies in the radiography program.
“We are here because we want to be here,” he said. “We are here because we want to better ourselves.”
Michelle Beerman, president of the Faculty Senate, urged the graduates to thank “those people who have supported you along the way,” and also told them to revel in the moment because the road to graduation day is often rocky and difficult.
“Take time to be proud of your achievement,” Beerman said.