USF St. Petersburg Spring Commencement to Honor Distinct Accomplishments of Students and Historic Tenure of President Genshaft

(April 29, 2019) – A Cuban immigrant who overcame countless obstacles to graduate from college the same month his son graduates from high school. A graduate student whose upbringing inspired her to study addiction and went on to receive the prestigious Fulbright award to pursue PhD research on the psychology of drug addiction in the United Kingdom.

They are just two of the nearly 550 students whose diverse accomplishments will be celebrated during the Spring 2019 Commencement.

“USF St Petersburg faculty and staff push students to excel, challenging them to engage their minds, heart and hands in learning as we walk with them,” said Martin Tadlock, Regional Chancellor of USF St. Petersburg. “Commencement is a wonderful event where we celebrate the paths our students have chosen, acknowledge the paths still in front of them and recognize that our graduates can handle any obstacles the world places in front of them.”

USF St. Petersburg will host two ceremonies on Sunday, May 5 at the Mahaffey Theater. Graduates from the Kate Tiedemann College of Business and the College of Education will walk at 1 p.m., and those graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences will walk at 5 p.m.

The Spring 2019 ceremony will mark the 65th Commencement celebration at USF St. Petersburg. It will also mark the final graduation ceremony where degrees will be conferred by USF President Judy Genshaft.

Over the course of Genshaft’s 19-year tenure, she has conferred more than 210,000 degrees and the total amount of USF alumni has doubled. Since Genshaft arrived in 2000, USF’s four-year graduation rate has tripled to 60 percent, a trajectory that may be unmatched across the United States.

For Yoiri Porrata, this commencement will be a vindication for the many obstacles he overcame on his journey to earn a degree. Porrata dropped out of college in order to leave his native Cuba and lost his job and house during the 2008 financial crisis. Then he was denied financial aid when he returned to college 15 years later in the U.S. and struggled to make ends meet while being pushed to the edge of quitting.

Now Porrata is earning a degree in Information Systems Management. What makes it even sweeter is that through his perseverance and support from the USFSP community, Porrata is on his way towards fulfilling a promise and earning his degree at the same time – in fact, the very same month – his son will receive his high school diploma.

“When I thought about returning to college several years ago, I realized if I went back full time and graduated on time, it would be when my son would also graduate high school,” said Porrata. “I would be an inspiration for him.”

USF St. Petersburg graduate student Jaclyn Dell’s family struggles inspired her to pursue research in drug addiction.

“My father passed away from alcoholism and my husband and I have a residential treatment center for drug addiction,” said Dell. “I always knew doing something with drug addiction was my thing, I just didn’t know if I would address it through social work or counseling or something else.”

Now Dell has been awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to pursue PhD studies on the psychology of drug addiction in the United Kingdom. Dell is graduating this spring with a master’s in Psychology. She will begin her studies at the University of Birmingham in the fall, where she will use brain imaging to identify the neural mechanisms of addiction to substances such as cigarettes and alcohol. She hopes results from her research will guide the development of innovative addiction treatment.

Other highlights for media consideration

Outstanding graduate

This award, given by the USF Alumni Association, recognizes a graduating senior who embodies leadership, school spirit, community service, character and scholarship. This year’s recipient is:

Lukas Desjardins, who is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology. While at USF St. Petersburg, Lukas participated in a study abroad program in Peru, studying the work of the Parque de la Papa, an indigenous NGO that is dedicated to helping the native people. He helped found the Tampa Bay Solidarity Network, which uses direct action to help with tenant and worker rights cases. Lukas also worked with Dr. Jay Sokolovsky as an editorial assistant on the latest edition of his book, “The Cultural Context of Aging.” Lukas is graduating summa cum laude and plans to attend graduate school to study the anthropology of labor and politics.

King O’Neal Scholars

Created by the USF Alumni Association in honor of charter graduates Lucas King and Evelyn O’Neal, this award is bestowed on outstanding students who have completed their USF coursework with a 4.0 GPA. This year’s recipients are:

Kaia Anderson, who is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in Writing Studies from the College of Arts and Sciences. She is celebrating this achievement just two years after graduating as valedictorian of her high school in Port Orange, Florida. During her time at USF St. Petersburg, Kaia had the transformative experience of learning a new language while studying abroad in France and received a creative writing certificate. After graduation, she hopes to write novels, travel around the world and teach English abroad. In the future, she wants to pursue a master’s and, later, a doctoral degree in Creative Writing.

Rachael Delorenzo, who is graduating with a Bachelor of Science with a major in Psychology and a minor in Criminology. She is also a graduate of the Honors College, where she completed a thesis on an intervention to reduce motor vehicle screen use. Rachael worked as a research assistant for Dr. Wendy Rote in the Parent-Adolescent Research Lab, studying guilt induction and conflict between mothers and their children. After graduation, Rachael plans to work toward medical school to fulfill her dream of becoming a psychiatrist.