To graduate from Santa Fe College during a pandemic, Shariff Manlosa had to balance a family and school schedule. Comforting a baby while attending virtual lectures was not always an easy task.
Manlosa, a 36-year-old father of two, was among over 1,500 students who — despite life’s difficulties — graduated from Santa Fe College in the Spring of 2021.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent transition to virtual learning, many Santa Fe College students still managed to graduate. Now, these graduates look toward furthering their education and careers.
Manlosa wanted to be a nurse for most of his life, but he said getting a degree in his home country, the Philippines, was too expensive.
In 2010, he said he and his wife immigrated to the United States, leaving behind the strong family support they had in the Philippines. More than a decade later, Manlosa walked across the graduation stage and received an associate degree in nursing from Santa Fe College this Spring — all while raising two children.
“It was a grueling experience,” he said. “Halfway through nursing school, I was thinking of quitting.”
Manlosa said juggling classes and family life brought with it various challenges.
One time, he had issues finding child care when he had to take a test and his wife was working. Other times, he said it was difficult to wake up early to drop his wife off at her work with their daughters, 6-year-old Sofia and 17-month-old Monina, in the car with them.
Now, with his degree in hand, Manlosa plans to get his nursing license and work in the lung transplant and vascular unit of a hospital.
Later on in his career, Manlosa said he may go back to school to pursue further education to obtain more opportunities.
“I just don’t want to be in the same place for all my life,” he said.
Santa Fe College graduate Dahlia Matos, 22, is also familiar with struggles that arise from taking exams at home due to the pandemic.
Living with her family while pursuing a nursing degree, Matos said she sometimes struggled with finding her own time and space to study. She would place a sign on the door asking for silence. The sign sometimes went overlooked.
Despite the occasional parent walking in during a test, Matos said she is grateful for the help her family gave her.
“We’ve always gotten along,” Matos said. “We’re super close. For me, my parents are such a blessing.”
Having spent her childhood in and out of the hospital because of a kidney condition, Matos did not always see herself working as a nurse.
"I was just, like, so tired of the hospital setting. But I realized I actually loved it,” she said. “When I realized that this is what I wanted to do and help people in the same way that wonderful nurses helped me, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m ready. I’m ready to give back.’”
Now graduated with an associate degree in nursing, Matos said she is set to start at the pediatric intensive care unit at UF Health Shands Hospital sometime this summer.
Matos is not the only one to continue her career path from Santa Fe College to UF.
Catalina Cunha, a 22-year-old Santa Fe College associate degree graduate, also plans to continue her career at UF within a few months. She plans to study dance at UF in the Fall.
Cunha said she originally tried to transfer to UF out of high school as a business major but was advised to consider a different major because of her grades.
Through her search for a major, she decided to study dance. She said dancing has been a passion of hers since childhood.
She said she is looking forward to attending UF, the alma mater of her siblings.
“UF has always been my one and only choice,” Cunha said. “It always felt like home.”
Two years from now, when she is expected to graduate from UF, she said she plans to audition for dance companies and possibly pursue a master’s degree in management.
Whether to a different college or new career, graduates from Santa Fe College are moving toward and looking forward to their futures with high hopes and optimism.
Contact Antonia LaRocca at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @antoniarlarocca.
Antonia LaRocca is a staff writer at The Alligator.