Pace Alachua Celebrates Girl Accomplishments at Graduation Ceremony

August 09, 2023
Alachua Graduates

Students who graduated from Pace Center for Girls Alachua on Monday were joined in caps and gowns by an advocate of the program who recently graduated herself.

Natalya Bannister Roby, who graduated on Friday with a doctorate degree from the University of North Florida in education leadership with a concentration in executive and organizational leadership, sat with the center’s five graduates and served as the keynote speaker of the graduation ceremony held at the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention in southeast Gainesville.

“Walking with our Pace graduates in my doctoral regalia after my own graduation on Friday has been a full circle moment for me,” said Bannister Roby, immediate past executive director of the center and current senior director of operations for the Pace national office. “I want our girls to be bold in their aspirations. My hope is that seeing someone who has shared lived experiences with them achieve this milestone will inspire them to dream big. My keynote speech revealed some of the obstacles I’ve overcome in my life that most people wouldn’t even believe I’ve endured. I wanted them to see that their trauma doesn’t define them - and that our challenges provide us with an opportunity to build our toolbox to better navigate life and inspire others who need to know that there are other narratives outside negative life outcomes for those who have faced trauma. I am proud to say that I am an honorary Pace girl and that my doctorate is dedicated to every one of our girls who never thought they could win.”  

Graduating from Pace represents the graduates’ triumph over challenges and adversity and signals the beginning of a new chapter in their story, said Becker Holland, the center’s associate executive director.

“We are so grateful to all of the people and organizations that make this moment possible,” Holland said. “Thank you to family and friends, staff and volunteers, donors and grantors, and elected officials for their willingness to invest in the futures of our students.”

Pace is a year-round school offering academic and social services to girls in 6th-12th grades who suffer from traumatic experiences that cause poor school performance.

The center accepts applications for girls with health issues, learning and mental challenges, are involved with the Department of Children and Families, have parents who are incarcerated, are struggling socially, have juvenile justice issues, need a smaller school environment and other circumstances, said Anthony Pierce, community engagement manager at Pace.

Pace Alachua was founded in 1998 by Kathie Southwick, who after 17 years at the helm passed the leadership of the center to Bannister Roby, who served as executive director from 2015-2022. Since its inception, Pace Alachua has served more than 1,500 girls by providing holistic social, academic and career-building services to girls in need.

The center this year graduated five seniors - Faith, Zara, Ayla, Kylah and Von – whose last names are not printed to protect their privacy.

“Congratulations to these five young ladies that graduated with their high school diploma today,” said Sgt. Joseph Castor of the Gainesville Police Department, adding that GPD is a staunch support of the center. “This is just the beginning. The sky is the limit.

Working with the Pace Center for Girls over the years in partnership has been a priority for us at GPD. We have seen many of these young ladies grow and become successful after leaving Pace. We are proud of you.”