College of Southern Maryland Celebrates its 20th Winter Commencement

Twin brothers David and Darrell Rice, of Waldorf, graduated from the College of Southern Maryland with associate degrees in Art during CSM's 20th Winter Commencement Jan. 17.

541 Students Earn Degrees or Certificates

The College of Southern Maryland (CSM) honored 541 candidates for 547 degrees and 250 certificates during its 20th Winter Commencement Jan. 17 at the La Plata Campus. The degrees and certificates spanned 69 programs of study.

Of the students earning recognition, 122 were from Calvert County, 202 were from Charles County and 179 were from St. Mary’s County. The majority of degrees, or 24.7 percent, were in the field of arts and sciences, general studies (18.3 percent), business administration (9.3 percent), and nursing (8 percent). General study transfers and the cybersecurity program were the primary certificates awarded.

“Every student who is graduating today has had to overcome challenges to get to this point,” said CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy. “Limited finances. Medical problems. Juggling family or work responsibilities. No goal is achieved without some struggle, some challenge to get beyond.

CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy snaps a selfie with the 2019 graduating class, all of whom can now call themselves CSM alumni.

“All of our students are an inspiration to all of us,” she continued. “Many have completed their studies while working, raising families, and volunteering in our community. That is what makes our graduates so special. Your determination and persistence have paid off.  We hope that the learning you were a part of here at CSM will help you fulfill a lifelong sense of purpose.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen delivers the keynote address.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) delivered the keynote address to the graduates and coined the College of Southern Maryland as “an important treasure in the state of Maryland.”

His message encouraged graduates to find time to contribute to those in need in the community and to seek common ground among differences. He encouraged the audience to always remember that despite our differences, there is “much more that unites us than divides us.”

Van Hollen added finding middle ground doesn’t mean that you have to give up your values and ideals. “One of the hardest things to do is withstand peer pressure and the herd mentality and hold on to your moral compass,” he said, further advising the graduates to not assume rank or authority has a better grasp on the facts.

“The only exception to that rule is to always listen to your mother,” he shared to echoing laughter.

“You don’t have to be disrespectful or contrary,” he pressed on. “Just don’t be afraid to challenge someone when your moral compass tells you to do so.”

Student Speaker Michael Bellis

CSM Student Speaker Michael Bellis, 29, of Leonardtown, encouraged his fellow classmates to value themselves by the sum of their future contributions.

“Our value is not measured by the degrees conferred, medals awarded or honors bestowed,” Bellis said, “but rather on our sum contribution to our families, our workplaces and society.”

Student Speaker Michael Bellis leads his class into the graduation ceremony.

For Bellis, who is the executive director of the United Way of Charles County, taking on the role of student speaker at the Winter Commencement was also part of a big reveal. “This is the seventh CSM graduation I have attended,” he said. “Typically I sit somewhere between (CSM) Foundation members along with all of the other honored guests. Attending these ceremonies has always been the highlight of my job, yet few have known that I have been completing my degree here for the past three years.”

Bellis was awarded his associate degree in Business Administration during the ceremony.

Commenting that he was “immensely proud” to be standing with his classmates, he added, “Tonight marks the culmination of countless hours of homework, studying, exams and research often measured in cups of coffee, hairs pulled, headaches from staring at computer monitors, missed social engagements for the sake of our education and nights we sent our spouse to bed without us.

“No matter what God has in store, we must ensure that as we proceed through life’s journey, we strive to be value adders in life,” he said.

Oldest graduate

Jerry Wade

Jerry Wade, of Waldorf, carried the title of oldest graduate to participate in the commencement and could certainly lay claim to being a value adder in life. The 63-year-old minister earned his associate degree in Human Services with a focus on alcohol and drug counseling and mental health. His achievement adds to his bachelor’s degree in Pastoral Leadership and Biblical History from the International Bible College and Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut. Along with receiving his degree from CSM, he was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges.

Wade said after he retired from a 25-year career in law enforcement and corrections with the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, he founded Peace and Comfort – a Waldorf-based evangelistic outreach ministry in 1999 focused on helping at-risk youth around the country. Working full time in the community, he was able to take one or two classes a semester and complete his associate degree in 10 years.

“CSM was a convenient and affordable way for me to continue to do my work and earn this degree,” he said. “My instructors were excellent and supported me in everything I wanted to do, and all of the issues I needed to tackle. In most cases, I was the oldest in my class,” he laughed, “but I think because of my age, and job, I brought insight to most of the 18-,19- and 20-year olds.”

Wade had a special message for area veterans. “As an Army veteran,” he added, “I cannot stress enough the value that CSM provides veterans. I urge all veterans to utilize their military service experience, advance themselves at CSM and figure out how CSM can be a stepping stone to continue to grow and serve.”

Career Changer

Lisa Malecki receives her nursing degree from CSM Trustee Chair Ted Harwood.

Fifty-seven-year-old Lisa Malecki, of Prince Frederick, took nearly 30 years to finally get her nursing degree. She earned a degree in education years ago and said she planned to stay in college to pursue a career in nursing. However, family and children took her decision in a different direction and she ended up working as a teacher for 24 years.

“Teaching was a great profession to be in, especially as a mom,” she said. But in summer 2016, she underwent a surgery that required a lengthy recovery – and with her children grown and gone – she decided to make the break from teaching and go get her long-desired nursing degree. For the last two years, Malecki has been a full-time student at CSM.

“I made achieving my degree my job,” she said. “I love nursing because I like to care for people and I wanted to make a difference. I know I already did make a difference as a teacher, but I wanted to do it on a larger scale. After that surgery, and others, I know that a good nurse or a bad nurse can make a difference in your recovery.”

Youngest graduate

Calvin Gorman

Calvin Gorman, 18, of Dunkirk, will enter his professional career early, much like he did his academic career. By dual enrolling in CSM while he was completing his requirements for high school, he earned his associate degree in Information Services Technology – Web Development just six months after he earned his high school diploma.

“It was odd when I started out because everyone in the classroom was older than me,” shared Gorman, who was 15 when he took his first class at CSM during the summer of 2016. He hopes to build his career both designing web pages, and working with the technology behind the web pages, he said, adding that he is actively looking for a job.

“I was really uncertain of what I wanted to in the long term when I started at CSM,” he shared. “I would tell any new student to just pick the career path you think you want and go for it.”

Annual Faculty Excellence Award Honoring Adjunct Faculty

Criminal Justice Instructor John Delabrer earns the Adjunct Faculty Excellence Award from CSM Professor Dr. Sarah E. Merranko.

Criminal Justice Instructor John Delabrer was honored with the 2018-2019 Adjunct Faculty Excellence Award during the ceremony. Delabrer is also a public safety officer at CSM’s Leonardtown Campus and he teaches part time as adjunct faculty in the Business, Technology and Public Services (BTP) Division.

Delabrer created and advises the Criminal Justice Club and has encouraged experiential learning opportunities through the club at various locations, including Farming 4 Hunger in Calvert County which utilizes inmates to help maintain the farm. Through that experience, one of the club members decided she no longer wanted to be a police officer, but instead, wanted to work as a probation officer assisting inmates as they make the transition to re-enter society. Delabrer also received the CSM Advisor of the Year award in 2017 for providing the club’s members with a wide array of meaningful experiences and learning opportunities.

“John takes his job teaching Criminal Justice very seriously, and it shows,” said Sarah E. Merranko, Ed.D. Merranko, is a CSM professor in the Department of Communication, Arts and Humanities, presented Delabrer with his award. “He works hard to relate each lesson with either the student’s life or the life they will lead in law enforcement.”

Nursing Recognition Ceremony

Rachel Turner receives her nursing degree from CSM Trustee Chair Ted Harwood.

During the nursing recognition portion of commencement Thursday, 38 nurses received their degrees and nursing pins.

Rachel Turner, 21, of Waldorf, crossed the stage Thursday with the words “What She Tackles, She Conquers” in big letters atop her graduation cap – a rallying cry supported by the fact she was awarded the CSM Health Sciences Division Achievement in Nursing Award, presented to the graduate who demonstrates academic achievement, clinical competence, community service and leadership potential.

The evening ceremony was especially sweet for Turner, who learned two days before commencement that she would begin her career as a registered nurse at Washington Hospital Center’s in the stroke unit Feb. 25.

She said she’ll miss her fellow students. “Your classmates become your family,” she shared. “I made really good friends along the way at CSM because the curriculum is so demanding and we go through it all together. But I would recommend CSM to everyone – especially to those who want to go into nursing. It’s a great program.”

Marilaan van der Merwe receives her nursing degree from CSM Trustee Chair Ted Harwood.

Marilaan van der Merwe, 25, of Leonardtown, was awarded the CSM Health Sciences Division Academic Achievement, given to the graduate with the highest grade point average in the class.

van der Merwe is a South African citizen who came to the United States in 2012 as an au pair for an American family living in San Francisco. She moved with the family to Washington, D.C. and then New York before returning to the area to marry her husband whom she met while in Washington. They were married in October of 2016.

“I was in a psychology class at CSM when some nursing students spoke to us,” she explains. “And one day soon after I woke up and realized that I used to be an entry-level medic in South Africa, and I had always kept up with my medical classes to take care of children and I just had an epiphany that becoming a nurse is where my life needed to go.”

van der Merwe entered CSM’s Nursing Program in spring 2017 and walked across the stage at the top of her class with the words “Not All Angels Have Wings – Some Have Stethoscopes” embossed on her graduation cap.

To view photographs of CSM’s 20th Winter Commencement, visit

To view photographs of CSM’s Nurse Pinning and Recognition Ceremony, visit

For the listing of graduates, click here.

About CSM

The College of Southern Maryland is a regionally accredited community college that provides programs and services with a special focus on local workforce development to maintain and grow a healthy economy and community. CSM serves more than 24,000 credit and continuing education students at its campuses located in Hughesville, La Plata, Leonardtown and Prince Frederick, as well as a Higher Education Center shared with University of Maryland University College in Waldorf and a Center for Transportation Training in La Plata. For information about CSM, call 301-934-7765 or visit