The College of Southern Maryland (CSM) recognized 709 candidates for degrees and certificates during its 19th Winter Commencement held Jan. 18 at the college’s La Plata Campus.

Every student who is graduating today has had to overcome challenges to get to this point,” said CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy. “All of our students are an inspiration to all of us. Many have completed their studies while working, raising families, and volunteering in your community. That is what makes our graduates so special.”

The college awarded 565 associate degrees and 481 certificates. Of the students receiving awards, 35 percent are from Charles County, 34 percent are from St. Mary’s County, 25 percent are from Calvert County and 6 percent are from outside the region. Nearly 22 percent of all degree candidates for graduation earned a 3.5 grade point average or higher, with 17 percent graduating with honors.

Associate degrees were awarded predominantly in the fields of general studies, arts and sciences, nursing and business administration while general studies: transfer, emergency medical services, accounting: basic and accounting: advanced topped the list as the most popular certificates. Of the graduates, 63.6 percent are female. The oldest graduate is 73. The youngest is 18.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the college. Since its first graduating class in 1960, the college has celebrated 26,345 graduates. Highlights of the ceremony included the presentation by CSM Trustee Chair Ted Harwood of the presidential medallion to Murphy, CSM’s fifth president, as she presided over her first CSM commencement.

Other highlights were keynote remarks by Ashley Johnson, technical director of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division (NSWC IHEODTD) and student speaker Alondra Lopez-Perez of Lexington Park, and the presentation of the Trustees’ Distinguished Service Award to Foundation Director Dr. Ila Shah and the Faculty Excellence Award for Adjunct Faculty to Lead Student Success Coordinator Beverly Dearstine-Russell.

Oldest Graduate
Thomas Kettelle, 73, of Lexington Park repeats as the oldest graduate, having received this designation in last winter’s CSM commencement ceremony. He receives his fifth degree from CSM, an associate degree in social sciences.

“It’s thrilling. It’s fun,” Kettelle said of continuing his education in his senior years, adding that it helps him in class to have scores of years of experience on which to draw.

Kettelle has already earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences from University of Maryland University College (UMUC) and is working toward his second bachelor’s degree, this time in history.

“I’ve enjoyed CSM,” Kettelle said. Taking courses “keeps my mind sharp.” He does not plan to pursue any more associate degrees. But, once he has earned his second bachelor’s degree, he is thinking he’d like to pursue a master’s degree next.

His ongoing and varied college experience has turned him into a convincing advocate of the value of higher education since he began taking courses when he was 65. Not only is learning interesting and broadening to the mind, he said, but Kettelle believes higher education is a necessity for those who want to prosper.
“If you want the good life, go to college,” he said. “If you want to get a good job with good pay, the best answer is still a college degree. The good life doesn’t fix all your problems. It does make it a lot easier to live.

“Education is so vital. It’s important … to get ahead in life,” he said.

Before his career as a student, Kettelle worked for the U.S. Navy Department for more than 30 years and served active duty in the U.S. Army, in the Naval Reserves and the District of Columbia Air National Guard. He is a former marathoner and triathlete and has won 15 Presidential Sports awards.

Youngest Graduate
The youngest student graduating is Michelle Beaulieu, 18, of Callaway. Beaulieu started early at CSM, receiving dual enrollment credit for her high school pre-calculus class as a freshman at Great Mills High School. A participant in the STEM program from sixth grade at Spring Ridge Middle School through graduation from GMHS in May 2017, the experience solidified Beaulieu’s interest in STEM-related fields and helped form her career goal of becoming a research physicist.

“I would really like a career that allows me to travel a lot and that has some sort of humanitarian component,” she said.

At CSM, Beaulieu has earned an associate degree in math and physical sciences. And, since completing her associate, she has already completed her first semester at SUNY Binghamton, where she is part of the university’s Scholars program, a four-year honors program. She is also in the Freshman Research Immersion program, which allows first-year students to do real-world, cutting-edge scientific research alongside faculty. Beaulieu is pursuing a double major at SUNY Binghamton — physics and math — with a minor in French. In addition, she participates in music ensembles at the university and is planning a semester abroad in France.

“The credits I’ve earned from CSM have essentially cleared the way for me to focus on studying what I’m passionate about at Binghamton,” she said.

“I deeply appreciate how willing and helpful the people at CSM have been throughout the whole process of getting my degree as a high schooler,” Beaulieu said. “As someone with a love of learning, I also really enjoyed the academic rigor of CSM’s classes. I know there is sometimes a stigma about the quality of community college courses, but that stigma does not reflect my experiences at CSM whatsoever; in fact, one of the best math classes I’ve ever taken was Differential Equations at CSM.”

Keynote Speaker Ashley Johnson spoke to CSM graduates at Winter Commencement about the value of failure in the learning process. “Remember that honoring the compassionate heart does not imply weakness. True leadership, inspiration and influence means listening to and from the heart while having the dedication and humility to clear all that stands in the way,”

Keynote Speaker, Ashley Johnson
The evening’s keynote speaker was Ashley Johnson, technical director of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division (NSWC IHEODTD). Johnson directs a multi-site workforce of approximately 1,900 employees with annual operations of more than $1 billion.

“Over our 60 years of providing academic excellence and career training within our region, CSM has developed strong and mutually beneficial partnerships,” said Harwood, when introducing Johnson. “One of our first partnerships was with the Navy when, in 1960, we established an apprentice program at the Naval Ordnance Station in Indian Head. This close association with the Navy has continued throughout the college’s history, and we’re delighted to have Indian Head’s technical director, Mr. Ashley Johnson, as the keynote graduation speaker this evening.”

Johnson spoke to the graduates about the value of failure in the learning process. “My advice is this: Don’t be afraid to fail. Expect failure. Embrace it. But most importantly, learn from it. I believe there is just as much knowledge in failure as there is in success”, Johnson said.

Remember that honoring the compassionate heart does not imply weakness. True leadership, inspiration and influence means listening to and from the heart while having the dedication and humility to clear all that stands in the way,” Johnson said.

For more on Johnson, visit

CSM winter commencement student speaker Alondra Lopez-Perez spoke to her fellow graduates about the value of perseverance. “At times, life can be rough. But the final reward is what matters,” Lopez-Perez said. “You need to fight for what you really want to be in life. It’s not going to be a single step, but the promises at the end are worth it.”

Student Speaker, Alondra Lopez-Perez

Winter commencement student speaker Alondra Lopez-Perez, 20, of Lexington Park spoke to her fellow graduates about the value of perseverance. “At times, life can be rough. But the final reward is what matters,” Lopez-Perez said. “You need to fight for what you really want to be in life. It’s not going to be a single step, but the promises at the end are worth it.”

Lopez-Perez has had her share of challenges in the past several years. She grew up in Puerto Rico, but at the end of 2014 she moved to Southern Maryland. It was the middle of her senior year in high school.

Not only was Lopez-Perez dealing with a new social group and a new school system, she was doing all that with limited language skills. “When I came from Puerto Rico, I could understand almost everything in English,” Lopez-Perez said. However, she couldn’t speak the language, and she struggled. “I even got bullied in school because they thought I couldn’t understand what they were saying,” she said.

Despite those challenges, Lopez-Perez persevered. She had goals and she was looking for how they could be achieved. She enrolled in CSM. Financially, she was assisted by the Florence B. Trueman Scholarship and she earned money from two part-time jobs, including working as a student assistant with the Prince Frederick Campus student services staff.

During her remarks, she told graduates, “For all of us graduating this evening, we have arrived at a moment where our next step will be foreign. Let’s all remember that we know who we are and we know what we can do. We have received a strong education and a solid foundation here at CSM. And now, we can go boldly into our future to make our dreams come true.”

Lopez-Perez graduates with two associate degrees, one in applied science and technology and the other in general studies. She is transferring to the University of Maryland, Baltimore, this spring to continue her studies in pre-med. Her goal is to become an orthopedic surgeon.

Dr. Ila Shah, right, was presented the Trustees’ Distinguished Service Award by Trustee Chair Ted Harwood during the 19th winter commencement Jan. 18.

Trustees’ Distinguished Service Award
The CSM Trustees’ Distinguished Service Award was bestowed on Dr. Ila Shah, retired pediatrician and co-founder of Shah Associates. A leader in the health sciences industry, she uses her expertise and network of colleagues to reduce barriers to education and healthcare.

Shah also makes an impact internationally. Through her service as a member of the Rotary Club of Charlotte Hall, she often partners with Rotary International on global projects. For example, she recently led the effort to bring clean drinking water to 18 villages in India, and she is currently working with a team of doctors to provide cataract surgeries on 1,400 blind adults and children in Nigeria. She was appointed to the College of Southern Maryland Foundation Board of Directors in November 2016.

In making the presentation, Harwood said, “She is a leader in the health services industry locally and globally. She is a visionary who uses her expertise and network of colleagues to reduce barriers to education and healthcare.”

CSM’s Beverly Russell was presented the Faculty Excellence Award for Adjunct Faculty during the Winter Commencement ceremony at the La Plata Campus.

Annual Faculty Excellence Award Honoring Adjunct Faculty

The Annual Faculty Excellence Award Honoring Adjunct Faculty was presented to Beverly Dearstine-Russell, the lead student success coordinator at the Leonardtown Campus and an adjunct instructor for the First Year Seminar.

In the presentation of the award, Professor Mike Green described Dearstine-Russell as someone who makes a difference wherever she goes. Green read from a reference about Russell provided by a colleague.

“Beverly Russell is one of the most professional, friendly and determined people that I have had the distinct pleasure of being able to work with,” said Professor Dr. Chretien Guidry. “I have worked with Mrs. Russell in successful events at Leonardtown Campus that she has organized and coordinated such as the Kick-off to College and Try College for a Day events. Each event has increased student enrollments and interest at the college … Mrs. Russell is both an asset and treasure for CSM and I certainly am proud to stand with her on any endeavor that she chooses to accomplish.”

Associate Professor Barbara Link also commented on Dearstine-Russell’s contribution to CSM and the community. “Beverly Russell is simply the heart and soul of CSM, Leonardtown Campus,” said Link. “All faculty and staff members know they can turn to Bev (“Miss Bev” to the students) for help with students who need that extra ‘something’ to help them succeed. … Bev makes a difference wherever she goes. She certainly makes a difference at CSM because she always goes beyond expectations to effect positive change.”

The College of Southern Maryland celebrated its 19th Winter Commencement Jan. 18 and Nursing Recognition Ceremony earlier in the day when 49 associate degree nursing candidates received their nursing pins.

Nursing Recognition Ceremony
During the nursing recognition ceremony held earlier in the day to honor the program’s 49 newest graduates, Miranda Reyna, 24, of California was recognized with both the CSM Health Sciences Division Academic Achievement in Nursing Award, given to the graduate with the highest grade point average in the nursing class, and the CSM Health Sciences Division Achievement in Nursing Award, presented to the graduate who demonstrates academic achievement, clinical competence, community service and leadership potential.

Reyna chose to pursue a career in the nursing field because she saw it as a way to have a positive impact. “I truly feel that my life’s purpose is to give back and try to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.

“It was very challenging,” Reyna said of the notoriously difficult CSM nursing program. “A lot of long nights.”

Miranda Reyna, 24, of California, right, was presented two awards by Dr. Laura Polk, chair of CSM’s health sciences division, during the nursing recognition ceremony Jan. 18.

That hard work earned Reyna a 3.77 GPA and a job offer as a Nurse Clinician I at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. She starts in April. In addition, the tuition assistance program at Johns Hopkins will allow her to continue her education, starting work on her bachelor’s degree as soon as this fall.

“I like CSM,” Reyna said. “I like the small-town feel … the small classrooms where you get the direction and attention you need from the professor. They want to see you succeed.”

Members of this class of nursing students selected Brian Whitworth, 35, of Owings as the student speaker at the nursing recognition ceremony.

After years of working as a waiter or bartender and other similar jobs in retail and the hospitality industry, Whitworth came to the point where he wanted to pursue a different career. “I wanted to do something a little more worthwhile in my life, something I would be a little more passionate about,” Whitworth said.

Brian Whitworth, 35, of Owings, left, receives congratulations from CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy during the college’s 19th winter commencement Jan. 18.

Whitworth is married, and during his first year in CSM’s nursing program, he and his wife, Katie, lost their first child at 20 weeks gestation. But then, just as he finished up his associate degree, on Dec. 27, 2017, he and his wife welcomed their son, Henry, to the world. Henry arrived about seven weeks early and has spent his first weeks in the NICU at Johns Hopkins.

Both of those experiences were lessons to Whitworth about the impact nurses and doctors have on their patients and that he shared that with his fellow nursing graduates in his speech. “I could see the impact good nurses and doctors made,” he said. “I could see how powerful good nurses can be. It was motivating.”