CSM Celebrates 17th Winter Commencement

625 Candidates Recognized; Youngest 17, Oldest 72

The College of Southern Maryland (CSM) recognized 625 candidates for degrees and certificates during its 17th Winter Commencement held Jan. 21 at the La Plata Campus.

The college awarded 608 associate degrees and 309 certificates: 42.9 percent of the students receiving awards are from Charles County, 28 percent are from St. Mary's County and 24.3 percent are from Calvert County while 4.8 percent are from outside of the region. Nearly one-quarter of all degree candidates for graduation earned a 3.5 grade point average or higher.

Associate degrees were awarded predominantly in the fields of general studies, arts and sciences, business administration and nursing, while general studies: transfer, criminal justice and emergency medical services-paramedic topped the list as the most popular certificates. Of the graduates, more than 60 percent are female, the oldest graduate is 72 and the youngest graduate is 17.

CSM President Dr. Brad Gottfried told family, friends and guests of graduates, “I'm inspired every time I walk into a classroom, but especially when I see the success of our students. What really impresses me is that I know that some of our students have come out of high school, come full time and graduate in two or three years. There are others, because of working conditions, because of family obligations, they are taking one or two classes a semester and it may take eight, nine, 10 years to complete their degrees, and that makes their success that much sweeter.”

Highlights of the ceremony included keynote remarks by The Honorable Andrea R. S. Watkins and student speaker Heather Murphy, and the presentation of a Distinguished Service Award and a Faculty Excellence Award.


Oldest Graduate

Bertha M. Cooks of White Plains, at age 72, earned an associate degree in early childhood development.

“I have always loved working with children and although I had the experience, I did not have a degree. Now, I do and I am so happy,” Cooks said.

Cooks, one of 12 siblings growing up in Alabama, was the first in her family to graduate from high school. She began studies toward a teaching degree at Alabama A&M, but had to leave due to financial issues. “I was distraught,” Cooks said. When her family moved to Boston, she applied and was accepted at Boston University, but was again unable to attend. For 25 years, Cooks ran a daycare center and once she and her husband had put their children through college, she decided that it was her turn.

On numerous trips to visit her son at Howard University, Cooks fell in love with the D.C. area and the milder winter climate, and she moved to Southern Maryland. While a senior staff employee at a local high school, Cooks was told that she couldn't get the teaching staff position that was available, because she didn't have a degree.

“I welled up with emotion and decided right then, I would never allow someone to say that to me again,” she said. “I hadn't been in school in 52 years and I was rusty in math, but with the help and patience of several instructors and a tutor I made the Dean's List and completed the required math courses with a 'B'.” Cooks is also a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for community college students.

“As an educator myself, I realize that everyone has their own style and pace for learning. Many of my CSM instructors understood that and helped me have faith in myself when I struggled. They helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Cooks. She also acknowledged her husband of 50 years who provided understanding, support and love while she pursued her degree.

Cooks plans to continue working, and playing, with children. “They have a way of keeping you young.”

Youngest Graduate

The youngest graduate is Kelly McGowan, 17, of, Charlotte Hall, who started her collegiate studies through an early college program at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia. She transferred to CSM and completed a degree in arts and sciences with honors.

CSM provided McGowan the opportunity to explore a variety of subjects, including 'fun classes' such as ceramics, theater costuming and botany, and 'serious classes' such as astronomy, algebra, Western civilization and literature, she said.

“CSM was a highly convenient educational institute and my professors definitely brought their 'A-game' to it,” said McGowan.

Following graduation, McGowan plans to work alongside her father in preparing tax returns in his accounting firm, while testing the waters of several career paths.

“After tax season is over, I'm going to see if I can try being a bank teller, a veterinarian assistant or possibly an organic grocery store associate, seeing what I might like to pursue and then working toward a bachelor's degree in that field. I'm taking a year off to fulfill a deferred childhood staple of 'poking at 50 million different potential careers until you find one that sticks,'” said McGowan.


Student Speaker Heather Murphy

Presenting the student address was Heather Murphy, of Prince Frederick, who earned an associate degree in general studies with honors. This fall, Murphy will be transferring to Chamberlain College of Nursing in Virginia, to pursue a bachelor's degree in nursing and has plans to earn her Doctorate Nurse Practitioner in five years. She is the president of the Student Government Association as well as a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS) and Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for community college students.

“As we celebrate this success tonight, I want to ask you to consider encouraging others toward pursuing their dreams,” Murphy said to her fellow graduates. “Be an example to current students who are struggling or who lack confidence in their abilities. Share stories of how you persevered and how you didn't let setbacks stop you.”


Keynote Speaker the Honorable Andrea R. S. Watkins

Commencement keynote speaker the Honorable Andrea R.S. Watkins, of Charles County told graduates and guests about her experiences as a student at then Charles County Community College and of the changes the college has been through since her graduation in 1981.

“The College of Southern Maryland has changed not only in name since I attended many years ago, but it has also changed in appearance and in its widening of scope and offerings to the Southern Maryland community. The one thing it has not changed in, however, is in giving each and every student an opportunity to establish an integral foundation upon which to build his or her future,” said Watkins.

For more on Watkins, visit http://news.csmd.edu/news/archive/2016/2aa08f1b7a55a280704176b666d0dd7e5cdbc06d.html

Trustees' Distinguished Service Award

The Board of Trustees recognized Joe Shannon, a longtime resident of Southern Maryland, for his exemplary and extended service to the college. Shannon served on CSM's Board of Trustees from 1997 to 2007, serving as vice chair from 2002-03 and chair from 2003-07. During his board service, Shannon?s accomplishments included, CSM's transition to a regional community college, contributions to foster dialogue and programs with regard to diversity, selection of the college's fourth president, and his generosity and philanthropic efforts in Southern Maryland.

Faculty Excellence Award Honoring Adjunct Faculty

The annual Faculty Excellence Award Honoring Adjunct Faculty was presented to Dr. Margaret Dowell from the Communications, Arts and Humanities Division.

?Margaret Dowell is CSM's best-kept secret. She is an instructional phenomenon with one of the most impressive records of accomplishment I've encountered. Three distinctions are important: her scholarship with artists suffering from drug addiction, her dedication of service to the art students of CSM and her personal artistic practice,” said Professor Andrew Wodzianski who nominated Dowell for the award.


Nursing Recognition

The 12th winter class of 37 nursing students participated in a recognition ceremony earlier in the day. Health Sciences Chair Dr. Laura Polk presented an Academic Achievement in Nursing Award to Hannah Margaret Arnold, of Lexington Park, who graduated with high honors. Christine Nicole Hurry, of Clements, received the Achievement in Nursing Award which is given to a student who has demonstrated advanced clinical competence, service and dedication to the community, leadership within and outside of the classroom, and academic excellence.


Introduction of Ceremonial Mace

The creation of the CSM mace began in the fall of 2015. The Student Government Association commissioned renowned woodworker Pat Matranga to create a mace for the college. Handcrafted from African mahogany, this custom-made mace is 48 inches long. At the head of the mace are pewter discs engraved with the official seal of the College of Southern Maryland.

The 2016 Winter Commencement marks the first time the mace has been used in an official ceremony at the college. The mace was carried by English Professor Dr. Richard Siciliano who has served the college for more than 47 years and is the most senior member of the college's faculty. In the future, the CSM mace will be carried on all ceremonial occasions at the head of the academic procession as a symbol of the college and its mission.


For photos from commencement and the Nursing Recognition Ceremony, visit http://csmphoto.zenfolio.com/16jangrad.

For information about the college, call 301-934-7765 or 301-870-2309, 240-725-5499 or 443-550-6199, Ext. 7765 or visit www.csmd.edu.

Winter Commencement Candidates for Graduation

The following students were recognized as candidates for associate degrees or certificates at the commencement ceremony:





Anne Arundel County


Tiffany M. Gruss

William Greenbury Sweeney



Kirstin Danielle Moore



John Wilson Browning


Baltimore City

Samantha Nicole Lee

Shady Ramadan Zayet


Baltimore County

Glen Burnie

Khylisha Janice King

Christie Eileen Okes


Owings Mills

Chaning De'Quan Burgess


Calvert County


Ron Michael Wilkinson


Chesapeake Beach

Dorothy Corene Almony

Alden James Bartley

Christina Marie Cheeks

Brian M. Flanagan

Emily Meagan Hancock

Catherine E. Johnston

Emily Morgan Kerwin

Kasey M.  King

Nicole Elizabeth Stewart

Brittany Ann Owen

Nicolle L. Sandy

Lori L. Simpson

Bryce A. Summerlin

Karlee A. Young



Valerie Rose Dowell

Luke Alexander Kahl



Jay Michael Freschi

James Michael Gilbert

Joseph Michael Grogan

Tina Marie Henderson

Benjamin Daniel Maxson

Amber Marie Norton

Kellie L. Ortman

Sarah D. Van Wie

Jennifer Nicole Whittington



Linsey Alexis Aley

Kelli A. Baldwin

Melina D. Br