The College of Southern Maryland (CSM) celebrated 572 candidates for 487 associate degrees and 252 certificates during a virtual 23rd Winter Commencement Ceremony Jan. 13. The graduates were recognized for several exceptional characteristics.
Of the students being celebrated today during a Facebook live broadcast, 209 are from Charles County, 182 are from St. Mary’s County, 141 are from Calvert County and 40 are from outside of the region. About 67% of the graduates are women and 33% are men. Twenty-three percent of the students graduated with honors.
The majority of degrees, or 27.3%, are in the fields of Arts and Sciences, Nursing (10.9%), Business Administration (9.2%), and Social Sciences (6%). General Study transfers, Accounting, Business Management, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Paramedic are the primary certificates awarded. The oldest graduate is 67 years young and the youngest is 17 years old.
The virtual ceremony began with an inspirational performance of the national anthem sang by CSM student Andrea Williams, of Bryans Road. And then more than 1,070 Facebook viewers engaged with the live premier to leave more than 534 comments, shares and reactions in the first hour.
“The students gathered here at graduation today navigated a global pandemic, along with the rest of the world, that continues to turn our lives upside down,” CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy told the viewers. “But, graduates, you decided what success would look like for you. You worked hard and you have earned the right to feel pride in your success. You embraced new realities and persevered. I am enormously proud of each and everyone of you.
“Our graduation ceremony is a transition and an honor to those who will turn their tassel today. We’ve entered a new world and I find hope in you – all of you. 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. It is with great excitement that I will watch where you will lead us.”
Graduates Aniyah Gabriel, of Fairfax, Va., and Verkia Smith, of Waldorf, offered similar thoughts and advice with their graduating class as they shared the honor of being Winter Commencement class speakers. Both started their academic careers at CSM as nursing students, but crossed the graduation finish line in distinctly different places.
“Though each of us had our own individual struggles and successes these past semesters during a global pandemic, I bet that many of our stories are very similar,” said Gabriel. “Going to college during a pandemic to gain credentials that will require us to work in a world navigating the ongoing COVID virus – some of us as first line responders – has been daunting. But we didn’t give up. We got up every day to study and work and we earned every second of joy we feel in this moment.
Gabriel shared that her mother passed away in May 2020 and she was left not knowing how to financially finish her nursing degree. “My mom’s advice to me always was to ‘never give up,’” she said. “And the day after [mom] died, as if she was repeating herself and making sure I would listen to her words even after she was gone, I got a phone call from Ms. Vic at the Educational Systems Federal Credit Union telling I had been awarded the 2020 Community College scholarship. I don’t think I ever cried so hard as I did that day on the phone. And Ms. Vic cried with me. If you’re out there listening today Ms. Vic ~ thank you; and thank you Educational Systems Federal Credit Union. You are the reason I am standing here today.”
Gabriel thanked several members of the CSM Nursing faculty including instructors Linda Goodman, Amber Hutchins, Sarah Cano, Jeanne Hill and Turner Coggins. “All of you, and your colleagues, taught me so much more than just the science of nursing,” she said. “You grew me as a person and as a caring patient advocate. You supported me, pushed me, and motivated me. And for that I will always, always be grateful.”
Gabriel reminded her fellow students that everyone was going to have bad days.
“I know now that my mom will always be there for me – showing me the way – and leaving reminders for me to ‘never give up,’ she offered. “And I am going to pay my mother’s hope, and love, and knowledge forward to you. When you are struggling, I hope you hear my voice, reminding you of this moment, and telling you: Never. Ever. Give. Up.”
Smith took to the podium to advise her fellow students to “just keep going.”
Her CSM experience included a journey that started when she enrolled at the age of 15 as a talented and gifted student and continued forward to see her accepted to the college’s nursing program, become the college’s assistant cross-country coach and be elected to the student government association.
It was after she earned an internship opportunity to serve as the deputy chief of staff for a Maryland state delegate that Smith said she changed her degree direction. In that position, she spoke with constituents, sat in on policy meetings and even presented a bill to the Black Caucus of Maryland that was passed and signed into law.
“I’ve learned that no one path is a straight shot to the finish line, and that no matter how many mistakes, hiccups or bumps you’ve endured – you … we … me … all of us must just keep going,” said Smith.
“Today’s commencement ceremony has been a long time coming and today we can finally say we’ve made it,” she said. “Through trials and tribulations, highs and lows, those butterflies in our stomach we just can’t seem to shake, those scared, nervous, and anxious feelings or whatever else may come your way – even if you must do a complete course change like I did – many successes await us.
“You WILL make a positive impact on the world,” Smith stressed to the students. “You all have a purpose in life, and part of that purpose is why we are here today. I am grateful to CSM (and you – my fellow class members) for opening up so many doors and opportunities for me so that I could open my mind and pursue what makes me truly happy.”
Smith shared she was excited awaiting for Dr. Murphy’s call for the graduates to turn their tassels. “Always remember, to keep going. Afterall, how can any of us say the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon?”
To listen to their full speeches, click on the video below:
‘Your Desire to Learn Made Us Better’
“I am so very happy to recognize your accomplishments on today,” said CSM’s Provost and Vice President of Learning Dr. Rodney Redmond. “Your tenacity, resilience, and perseverance remind me of a proverb that says, “someone said that it couldn’t be done, but he with a chuckle replied, may it could not, but he would not be the one to say so until at least he tried. You will discover that the very thing which seems impossible can be done; it can be overcome; it can be accomplished, just as you have accomplished earning your degree and are now at the edge of starting a new life.”
Redmond praised the graduates for their fortitude during the pandemic.
“Even when you didn’t start out to be a remote learner, you found ways to engage with your professor and your peers to become successful remote learners,” he told graduates. “You adjusted and adapted your style to what you needed to succeed. When the times got hard because you had to manage staying safe in this global pandemic along with work, family and school, you found the strength to keep going.”
He also thanked the grads.
“Your steady movement forward will continue to teach us how to co-exist in many positive ways,” he shared. “Your movement forward required us to learn new skills for work and engagement. Your desire to learn made us better professors, counselors, advisors, and supporters of learning and of you— our learners. It is your steadfastness that I see as I gaze into the future of CSM and the Southern Maryland region. It is your success that is helping to lead that way into a more open and inclusive society. I salute you for teaching us that.”
Create Your Own Legacy
CSM Senate Faculty President and Communications Professor Dr. Sarah Merranko reminded students that while the work to earn their certificate or degree was certainly hard, it was also an amazing opportunity, because college changes lives and creates legacies.
She shared the story of chemist Alfred Nobel who combined a new substance called nitroglycerin with a paste and finished it with a blasting cap and a fuse to call it dynamite.
“In 1888, his brother Ludvig died in France,” she continued. “Assuming the dead Nobel was his brother Alfred, the newspaper wrote an obituary stating, ‘The merchant of death is dead.’ It stated that he was a man who made money off inventions that would kill more people faster than ever before. He read every word, and he could not stop thinking about it. He had no wife. No kids. His work was his life and was to be his legacy. Is this how the world would remember him? As the merchant of death?” she asked.
Eight years later, Alfred Nobel did die.
“However, he ensured that he would be known for something other than the inventor of dynamite,” Merranko explained. “Instead, he left the bulk of his estate to establish a trust that would give awards that we know as Nobel Prizes. Alfred Nobel did not want his name to be most associated with an invention that brought great pain, so he created an award used to honor men and women from around the world for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and work in peace. Thereby changing the way, we use his name to this day.”
She also quoted former U.S. President John F. Kennedy: “For those to whom much is given, much is required.”
“Not only does [attending college] have the ability to impact your ability to earn more money and have a more stable career, but it also impacts your children and your children’s children. Individuals who attend college are far more likely than their counterparts to have children who attend college and pass down that down through remaining generations.”
She then asked the students to remember, “that what is passed down from generation to generation is far more valuable than what is written on a piece of paper we call a diploma; it is the opportunity to take what you have learned here and create your own legacy.”
CSM Board of Trustees Chair Jay Webster joined the cast of CSM leadership to congratulate graduates on behalf of the entire board.
“All of us at CSM are so proud of you for accomplishments and the hard work it took for you to get here,” Webster said. “You have grown in your career and in your professional goals, and more importantly you’ve grown personally in ways none of us could have ever predicted. For many of you, your academic journey at CSM started, and is now ending, during a global pandemic. When you stop to think about how astonishing that is, you then realize how much more amazing your accomplishments are today.”
Webster also took the opportunity to share with the graduates and viewers the Board of Trustees’ choice for its Distinguished Service Award.
“In my role as Board of Trustee Chair, I have the honor of seeing CSM from many different perspectives,” he said. “By far the best view is watching our students work extraordinarily hard and succeed. But I also get to see many people behind the scenes, on the sidelines, and in our cheering sections who work hard for our students and our institution to help ensure our high level of excellence. I am here today to talk about one of them and recognize them for their ongoing commitment to CSM and that person is former Charles County Commissioner and Maryland State Senator James. C. “Jim” Simpson.”
As a friend of CSM for many years, the Simpson and his late wife Barbara moved to Charles County in 1958 with their three children, James III, Gary and Carol (both Gary and Carol attended CSM when it was called Charles County Community College). Together, they ran Simpson Distributing Company until they sold the business in 1986.
“Their first gift to our college was in 1996 in support of the Center for Business and Industry Building and the family has never waned in their support over the years,” Webster said. “I can’t wait until the time comes that we can do this in person, but for now know that it is my absolute honor to represent the Board of Trustees and the entire CSM community in virtually awarding you the CSM’s 2021 Trustees Distinguished Service Award. You and your entire family’s ongoing generosity and investment in CSM impacts many lives, many families and the prosperity of our region. We are grateful.”
When contact at his home in Florida, Simpson said he was “humbled and honored” to be chosen as the recipient of the Board of Trustees Distinguished Service Award.
“My interaction with than the Charles County Community College started many years ago when I was president of the Charles County Commissioners and Jay Carsey was the college president and John Sine was a dean at the college,” Simpson wrote in an email response. “Their plan was to build and expand facilities with more programs while providing excellent, affordable education with diversity and equity in the forefront of their minds. And so it began. I recall one of the earliest programs at the college was nursing and if completed the students were guaranteed a position at the hospital in La Plata.”
Overtime, Simpson wrote, “all three counties of Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s came together and to create the College of Southern Maryland,” which he noted as “a truly great accomplishment.”
“And the winners have always been everyone who wants to further their education,” Simpson shared. “Now under the current leadership of CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy and the CSM Board of Trustees the original plan and goals continue to grow with new facilities and programs while still providing excellent, affordable and inclusive education for all.”
To see the full list of graduates, visit https://www.csmd.edu/news/2022/csm-announces-2022-winter-commencement-candidates-for-graduation.html.
To learn more about CSM’s recent graduates, and to read letters of congratulations from federal, state and local politicians, as well as CSM leadership, visit https://www.csmd.edu/csmgrad2022/index.html.