The College of Southern Maryland (CSM) celebrated 754 candidates for 403 degrees and 500 certificates during its 22nd Winter Commencement held Jan. 15, 2021, during a spirited virtual ceremony held in a Facebook Live event.
Of the students celebrated during the online ceremony, 306 are from Charles County, 229 are from St. Mary’s County, 167 are from Calvert County and 52 are from outside of the region. Twenty percent of the associate degree candidates graduated with honors. Sixty-five percent of the graduates are women and 35 percent are men.
The majority of degrees, or 26.6 percent, were in the field of arts and sciences, nursing (11.7 percent), criminal justice (7.2 percent) and business administration (6.9 percent). General study transfers, accounting, business management and cybersecurity were the primary certificates awarded. The oldest graduate is 63 years young and the youngest graduate is 18 years old.
The virtual ceremony drew more than 1,400 viewers. The annual tradition was marked with themes of perseverance, survival and resiliency – as students were recognized for succeeding despite the challenges of the global pandemic and a charged environment surrounding race relations and politics.
CSM student Domonique Rinaldi kicked off the event with a beautiful and riveting rendition of the national anthem followed by speeches, graduate photos and quotes, and a web page filled with well-wishes from local, regional and state politicians. Facebook viewers users left more than 411 comments and clicked their love, like and hug reaction buttons more than 150 times. Within an hour of the event, more than 1,117 people had interacted with the online ceremony.
‘You are the Role Models’
“Students gathered here today at graduation navigated a global pandemic along with the rest of the world that turned our lives upside down,” began CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy. “Many of us felt the impact the pandemic has had on mental health and finances. Members of our community experienced food and housing insecurity – perhaps for the first time. And students, amid all this, you dealt with an emotionally charged environment around race relations and politics. But you decided what success would like for you and you chose the College of Southern Maryland. For that, I thank you. You’ve worked hard and you’ve earned the right to feel pride in your successes.
“We’ve entered a new world, and I find hope for all of us … in you,” Murphy continued. “You have proven you know how to overcome adversity. You are the role models for those who come after you. You have rewritten the story of success and you are now uniquely prepared to become the pioneers in our new post-pandemic world. I know you are ready. It is with great excitement that I will watch where you will take us.”
Plot Twist and Opportunities
The keynote address was delivered by Christine Wray, FACHE, president of MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center and MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital. She also serves as a senior vice president for MedStar Health.
Explaining that she is a huge movie buff, she shared that she can’t wait for the day she and her husband can settle into the local movie theater and enjoy a new plot twist.
“The COVID 19 pandemic has been a plot twist for all of us,” Wray told the students. “Thankfully, the fact that you’re joining us now means that you were able to view this crisis as an opportunity to innovate and adapt. So much has been asked of our teachers and students this year. It is amazing to see the ways in which you have all collaborated toward common goals and remained committed to your education.
“You don’t have to have all the answers now,” she added. “You simply have to be ready to work hard and be the hero of your own story. How do I know you can do it? Because I see it every day in the bright committed people who have graduated from CSM and come to work at our hospitals. Their work ethic and willingness to go the extra mile for our patients is a testament to the skills and values instilled in you by your own families and experiences, and by your professors, fellow students and your college programs.”
Wray acknowledged that obstacles in lives are unavoidable, but she hoped the graduates could “keep finding a way to turn a plot twist like COVID-19 into an opportunity to grow and touch the lives of others.”
‘You’ve taught me to Persevere’
Recalling that her two years at CSM flew by “in the blink of an eye,” student speaker Joan Popoola shared how her time at the college shaped and molded her; taught her to think critically as an engineer; and succeed, fail, and work as a team. And it taught her how to ‘inspire and aspire’ as a leader while keeping her faith foremost in all her actions.
“Most importantly,” the Great Mills resident shared, “You – fellow CSM graduates – have taught me how to persevere.”
Calling her attendance at CSM the best decision she ever made, she said her academic journey also taught her about service leadership.
“Attending CSM, I was able to join a few clubs such as the Engineering Club and the National Society of Black Engineers both of which work to help people in our community, whether it be mentoring girl and boy scout troops; giving coffee and doughnuts to first responders and police officers; or helping female students at CSM who don’t know if engineering is the right field for them,” she said. “Part of being empowered as a female engineer has been empowering other female students and letting them know how women and their unique strengths and perspectives are needed in the global engineering industry.
“I think my biggest takeaway from my time shared with you at CSM is that the myth that community colleges aren’t as good as the bigger universities is false,” she said. “CSM has an abundance of opportunities, but you have to be the one to take them.”
‘We are Proud of You’
Referring to the graduates as ‘accomplished, survivors and completers,’ CSM Vice President of Student Equity and Success Dr. Tracy Harris told the graduates he admired them for facing unrelenting challenges in both their personal and academic journeys over the last year.
“You may not understand completely – yet – what you’ve been through,” he shared. “But we know what we witnessed of you. You were flexible, patient, resilient, and understanding that we all were adjusting to a new normal: Wearing masks, isolating and then only reuniting to small gatherings, and then Zooming, online proctoring, [having] study sessions on Microsoft Teams. Surviving unimaginable losses; but still making the grades.
“We are proud of you on this day because you forged ahead and got the job done,” he said.
‘Making a Difference’
CSM Professor of Communications and Faculty Senate President Dr. Sarah Merranko told the graduates to continue to be compassionate, caring, and contributors to the greater good.
“The world becomes a better place when we do good,” said Merranko. “However, most people focus on individual success, rather than contributing to the greater good. Today you are graduating and going on to your next great adventures. Some of you will be continuing your education elsewhere, while others may be heading off into the workforce, or the military. The late President at Illinois Wesleyan University, Minor Myers Jr. said it best when he said, ‘go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.’”
Oldest Graduate Finishes with Double Major
At 63, Waldorf resident Jackie Curry said she wasn’t surprised she was the oldest graduate in her class, but she was a little surprised when she looked back to realize it took her 14 years to earn two degrees; one in Arts and Sciences and one in General Studies.
“When I turned 50, I decided to make a change after a career in mortgage banking,” Curry said. “After taking some time off for myself, I took a job as a high school instructional assistant with Charles County Public Schools ~ with no experience at all ~ and I quickly realized I needed to catch up with what was being taught in the classrooms. Then I switched to middle school, and was put in an eighth-grade algebra class and had no idea what was going on, so I enrolled at CSM.”
Plus, Curry said she wanted to get her degree because everyone else in her family had one. “And I helped every one of them [husband, daughter, son] get through school,” she laughed. And like the majority of students enrolled at CSM, Curry could only attend college on a part-time basis as she balanced her job and her family.
“It’s funny,” she reflected. “I ended up having some of my students I taught in public schools, in my college classes over the years.”
Curry said she had a ‘thorough’ experience at CSM and over the years discovered a new fondness for the knowledge she gained in her Irish Literature class and her all-time favorite class: The History of Rock and Roll.
“The things I’ve done since I started working in the public school system really helped me at CSM, and vice versa,” she said. “And being a student at CSM helped me look at things from the students’ perspective when I was teaching. Every professor and teacher I had at CSM was understanding and helpful. I had a really great experience. I am able to use what I learned in my own classroom. I loved every minute of my time at CSM.”
Miranda Shipman, 18, of Charlotte Hall, earned the title of the Class of 2020’s youngest graduate. Graduating early however, is not new for Shipman. She graduated early at the age of 17 from Chopticon High School, too.
“I was already dual enrolled at CSM when I graduated from high school so I started going full time and taking eight classes a semester, including over the summer, and signed up for all the mini-sessions I could,” Shipman explained. “I was determined to get it done in one year instead of two. And I did!”
Shipman is currently enrolled at George Mason University after transferring there over winter break with her associate’s degree in Arts and Sciences. She continues her drive to succeed taking a full schedule of classes and working two jobs at two different law firms ~ in pursuit of her career in law.
“I had a wonderful experience at CSM,” Shipman said, adding that CSM is a family affair. Her mom is currently enrolled in CSM’s nursing program; her older sister attended; and her younger sister – currently attending Chopticon High School will be dual enrolling.
“My advisor [CSM Academic and Career Advisor] Martha Maratta helped me every step of the way and helped me plan every semester,” Shipman continued. “I was working two jobs while attending CSM and it was tough, but CSM made it doable, affordable and worth every minute. I would recommend CSM over and over because I know that CSM was 110 percent the best decision I ever made.”
To view the list of graduates by name, visit: https://news.csmd.edu/all-news/csm-announces-2020-fall-candidates-for-graduation-participating-in-2021-winter-commencement/