CRESTVIEW — For Dr. Yasmin Arafa, going down in history as the first degree recipient from Florida A&M University’s Crestview campus was the farthest thing on her mind.

“I was busy studying for exams,” she said. “I didn’t even think about that.”

Arafa joined her 20 classmates Wednesday afternoon in the lobby of the historic downtown Alatex Building for a ceremony marking the culmination of an eight-year effort to bring a school of pharmacy to North Okaloosa County.

Speakers credited the late Dr. Durell Peaden, whose vision led to the FAMU Rural Diversity Healthcare Center which now is called the Durell Peaden Jr. Education Center in his honor.

“When he said, ‘I think we could put a pharmacy school in Crestview,’ I thought, ‘He’s dreaming big again,” Mayor David Cadle said.

“One word,” Peaden’s son, Tyler Peaden said. “My dad is looking down today and saying, ‘Wow.”

Peaden Center director, Dr. Margareth Larose-Pierre, praised Peaden’s “love of education, love of healthcare and love of his community.”

For many of the graduates, the convenience of not having to leave Northwest Florida for their pharmacy education figured heavily in their decision to attend the school four years ago.

“It prepared us really well,” Dr. Thuy Do, from Pensacola, said.

“I got to move home from undergraduate (studies) and stay here,” Crestview resident Dr. Brittany Dutton said.

Dutton, who got a job working in an out-of-town Publix pharmacy, said, “I would love to come back and work here, but right now I’m going to go where they send me.”

Being a remote learning center, many classes were beamed into the Peaden Center’s classrooms, which was new for many of the graduates.

“We were not used to hearing voices coming from the ceiling and talking to a screen,” Do said.

Larose-Pierre said 90 percent—and probably more—of the graduates already have jobs. One of them is Dr. Justin LaFrance, who will also work for the Publix supermarket chain’s pharmacy system.

“Everything worked out great for me here,” he said. “I’m excited to get started.”