The College of Southern Maryland celebrated 601 candidates for 912 degrees and certificates during its 58th spring commencement ceremony held May 18 at the La Plata Campus.
In addition, for the first time, CSM recognized 18 apprenticeship completers who have met all requirements to sit for their journeyman license exam, including 600 hours of classroom instruction and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training over four years.
“We have a lot in common,” said CSM President Dr. Brad Gottfried to the soon-to-be graduates. “We’re both closing the chapter called ‘The CSM Years.’” This was the last CSM graduation for Gottfried, who will retire June 30 after 11 years of leading the college. He was the keynote speaker for the event.
CSM awarded 642 associate degrees and 270 certificates: 36.9 percent of the students receiving awards were from Charles County, 30.4 percent from St. Mary’s County and 25.1 percent from Calvert County with 7.5 percent from outside of the region.
Associate degrees were awarded predominantly in the fields of general studies, nursing, arts and sciences and business administration, while general studies: transfer, accounting: basic and advanced and cybersecurity were the most predominant certificates. Of the graduates, 61.4 percent were female. The ages of this spring’s associate degree candidates ranged from 18 to 69.
The spring commencement was its largest class yet. The college now has surpassed 25,000 total graduates, with close to 25,770 CSM students having earned a degree or certificate since the college’s first graduation.
Youngest Graduate and Student Speaker Fanta Gai
Student speaker Fanta Gai of Waldorf, who just celebrated her 18th birthday last week, is the youngest graduate at this year’s spring commencement ceremony. She was also the youngest graduate in her high school class when she finished her studies in The Gambia, where she grew up.
Born in New York City to a mother who worked at an airline company and a father who was from The Gambia, the family moved back to Africa when Gai was very young, only returning to the United States to visit during summer breaks. Gai excelled in school, earning her high school diploma a year early.
An aunt in Southern Maryland invited Gai to start her college career here. “There’s a great college that’s nearby,” Gai said, recalling her aunt’s words. So Gai moved by herself across the Atlantic Ocean to live with an aunt she had never physically met.
CSM was a good match for her. “I loved the environment,” she said. “I thought I would be very intimidated.” As she got used to college, she was also getting used to living in the United States. She said she enjoyed the inexpensive and what-to-her were somewhat exotic foods in the United States, especially pizza and pancakes. She also appreciated the consistent supply of electricity and hot water here.
The aspect of college that she most enjoyed, she said, was CSM’s professors’ attitudes toward their students’ success.
“Here they actually encourage you and help you to excel,” she said, adding that the approach to education in her home country could be harsh.
Gai earned an associate degree in general studies from CSM. She intends to continue her education at UMBC or the University of Maryland, studying international relations, potentially working as an ambassador someday.
Success in the United States required Gai to learn a new skill, she said. “Here you have to look for opportunities and put yourself out there.” In her speech to her fellow graduates, Gai encouraged her peers to do the same as they all prepare to start new somewhere else, whether it be a new college or new job.
She expressed appreciation for her experience at CSM and how it helped prepare her for her next step in life. “My two years at CSM has validated my potential,” she said. “Everything is achievable.”
Oldest Graduate Mike Howard
The most senior graduate is Mike Howard, 69, of Charlotte Hall, who received his associate degree in nursing.
Howard is quick to point out that his age and situation were more of a benefit than a hindrance as he worked toward his degree. He noted that his younger classmates generally had to juggle multiple responsibilities along with the challenging coursework. As a retiree, Howard had the opportunity to concentrate solely on his studies.
“They are my inspiration,” he said of his fellow nursing students. “I’m very, very lucky to do what I’m doing without having to be overly concerned about income and raising a family.”
Howard was born in Washington, D.C., and moved to Charles County in the early 1970s. He was a member of the United States Naval Reserve and served on both active duty as well as fulfilling his Reserve obligation. He has worked as a union plumber and then for more than 30 years as a construction foreman and facilities supervisor for Giant. Howard credits his wife, Mary Ellen, and his five adult children with encouraging him to continue his education.
He was a volunteer paramedic with the rescue squad as well as the Charles County Mobile Intensive Care Unit and it was this experience that sparked Howard’s interest in medicine and patient care. When he retired several years ago, Howard realized he had the chance to pursue this new career path. His goal is to work as a hospice care nurse.
“I want to be a part of the patient/family care team that works together to provide the client with the highest quality of life possible in the time remaining to them.”
Howard said he initially wondered how his performance at CSM would stack up against the younger students just out of school. “It worked out great,” he said. “I felt that even with the age difference I was a part of the clinical team and that, as a team, we all worked together to help each other succeed.”
Howard encourages other older students to take advantage of the opportunities that CSM offers as an accessible college at a reasonable cost. “I don’t really regard my age as anything spectacular for what I am doing,” he said. “Age should not necessarily be a determining factor for a person returning to the classroom. I think it is more that the opportunity is here at CSM and if an individual, young or old, wants to avail themselves of the opportunity they should follow through. This college is a huge gift to the community.”
Keynote Speaker CSM President Dr. Brad Gottfried
CSM Board of Trustees Chair Dorothea Smith introduced Gottfried as commencement speaker. She described his “remarkable legacy of building for the future at CSM,” including his efforts to keep a CSM education affordable and accessible, his interest in providing workforce development and new learning programs as well as new facilities and a new campus that have been established during his time at the college.
In his keynote address, Gottfried shared life lessons that have served him throughout his career — “live life to its fullest, have the courage to be you and live up to your potential and live life without regret.”
Gottfried encouraged the students to be intentional about how they spend their time, select their priorities and choose to live as they move on from CSM.
He shared results from a study about dying patients and their most common regrets. “The most common regret of all … I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me,” he said.
“One of the most important messages that I have for you is to follow your dreams,” he said. “And don’t let anything or anybody get in your way … Don’t live a ‘kinda’ life. Dream big. Our lives are meant to be lived fully and completely, without regret. We never know how long we have, so let’s start living a life free of regrets.”
Annual Faculty Excellence Award Honoring Permanent Faculty to Sandra Poinsett
The Annual Faculty Excellence Award Honoring Permanent Faculty was presented to Math Professor Sandra Poinsett by CSM Faculty Senate President Mike Green.
Prior to the May 18 ceremony, Professor Tom Seremet, a longtime colleague, discussed ways that Poinsett has impacted math education at CSM. Poinsett is largely responsible for a remarkable change in higher level math classes at CSM, he said.
“In the past, it was pretty much all boys in the advanced math classes. Now there’s as many girls,” Seremet said. “And with confidence and energy, those girls are achieving every bit as much as the boys.”
Seremet credits this change with Poinsett starting the Women and Math program, which has expanded into “Women + STEM,” at CSM about a dozen years ago. Through an annual conference and other events, the program encourages female students to consider all the options available to them, even advanced math classes.
“She has changed the playing field,” Seremet said. “What she’s done is help give young women the confidence and motivation to take math.”
In his presentation of the award to Poinsett, Green also noted Poinsett’s individual attention to her students, her efforts to stimulate students’ curiosity and her assistance to struggling students.
Nursing Recognition Ceremony
During the nursing recognition ceremony held earlier in the day, Eileen Parry of La Plata was recognized with the Academic Achievement in Nursing Award, given to the graduate with the highest grade point average in the nursing class. Sana Qureshi of Waldorf was recognized with the Achievement in Nursing Award, presented to the graduate who demonstrates academic achievement, clinical competence, community service and leadership potential. This spring’s nursing program graduated 56 students.
At the college’s May 17 Honors Reception, Faculty Senate Scholarships were awarded to Cheryl Fowler, Jerry Hollebon, Dillon Mandley, Zachary Teston and Lily Winsted; and the 2017 All-Maryland Community College Academic Team was announced as Rachel Nussberger and Kenneth Polk. Divisional awards were awarded to the following students: George Flynn Memorial Accounting Award, Amy Barrick; Outstanding Business Administration Student, Kaylah Crosier; Outstanding Computer Science Student, Tyler Brinkley; Outstanding Construction Management Technology Student, John Flaherty; Outstanding CyberSecurity Student, Justin Dement; Outstanding Engineering Technology Student, Christopher Young; Outstanding Hospitality Management Student, Samantha Davis; Outstanding Information Services Technology Student, Timothy Burdeaux; Outstanding Nuclear Engineering Technology Student, Neal Balaoing; Distinguished Honors in History, Chloe Dickson; Outstanding Art Student of the Year, Nataline Beckley; Distinguished Honors in Music, Kaitlin Stokes; Academic Achievement in Nursing, Eileen Parry; Achievement in Nursing, Sana Qureshi; Outstanding Physical Therapist Assistant Graduate, Crystal Berry; Outstanding Massage Therapy Graduate, Samantha Zabel; John Lamiman Writing Award, Jessica Fulghum; Outstanding Mathematics Student, Megan Elliot; Outstanding Engineering Student, Ashlyn Liverman; Outstanding Physics Student, George Jenkins; Outstanding Progress in Mathematics, Michael Bell; Outstanding Achievement in Early Childhood Development, Paula Sorrells; Outstanding Achievement in Criminal Justice, Branson Cameron; Outstanding Achievement in Homeland Security, Sandra Hawkins; Outstanding Achievement in the Social Sciences, Caroline Foreman; and Outstanding Achievement in Teacher Education, Ethan Ropel.
For photos from the ceremony, visit http://csmphoto.zenfolio.com/may2017grad. The week after graduation photos of each graduate will be available at this link to download for free.
For a complete listing of candidates for graduation visit http://news.csmd.edu/all-news/csm-announces-candidates-for-graduation-for-spring-2017-commencement/
For additional student stories, see:
Nicholas and Christina Combs
Wen Xing Lin
Rebecca and Rachel Mueller
Charles Thompson Jr.