The College of Southern Maryland (CSM) celebrated 522 candidates for 546 associate degrees and 244 certificates during its 60th spring commencement ceremonies May 17 at the La Plata Campus.
“We recognize that many of you have completed your studies while working, raising families, and volunteering in your community,” said CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy. “Some of you were able to register as full-time students and finish your degree requirements within a two-year window but the majority of you have attended only part time — taking only one or two classes a semester — so it has taken maybe even five years or more to earn this degree. Your determination and persistence has paid off. We hope that the learning you were a part of here at CSM will help you fulfill a lifelong sense of purpose.”
Of the students receiving awards at the ceremonies 38 percent are from Charles County, 33 percent are from St. Mary’s County, 23 percent are from Calvert County and 6 percent are from outside of the region. Of the graduates, 63 percent are female and 37 percent are males.
Associate degrees were awarded predominantly in the fields of general studies, arts and sciences, nursing and business administration. General Studies: transfer; accounting: advanced and basic; and cybersecurity were the predominant certificates.
CSM broke from tradition and held two ceremonies at this year’s spring commencement. The 10 a.m. ceremony honored students receiving certificates, associate of arts degrees and associate of arts in teaching degrees. The 3 p.m. commencement honored students receiving associate of science degrees, associate of applied science degrees, associate of science in engineering degrees and workforce development certificates.
CSM Professor of English, Communication and Languages Dr. Richard Siciliano, who has earned the distinction of working at the college for 50 years – longer than anyone in the college’s history – provided the keynote address at both ceremonies.
“Expectations: Sometimes they don’t get realized,” he shared. “Sometimes you fail. Sometimes what you expect happens – a promise of something great in your future – sometimes you miss the boat.”
And with that metaphor, Siciliano told the story of how his great-grandmother and grandmother, after saving money for more than a year, were turned away from gaining passage on the maiden voyage of the Titanic as tickets for the ship were so much in demand, the price had increased beyond their means. “So, sometimes, missing the boat can be fortuitous,” he said. “I’m here speaking to you, so there’s that.”
“As you saw in the program, I’ve been here at CSM longer than any single employee, but what it doesn’t tell you is that I didn’t expect to stay longer than maybe two or three years, and then I expected to move on,” he said. “I didn’t know where, but that’s what I expected.”
“Some of you had similar experiences and you wrote to me and told me that it took a while for you to reach your goal,” Siciliano continued. “Some of you told me about detractors who made you doubt yourself. Sometimes things happened, life got in the way, and you had to rethink your chances of success when the future looked dark. My advice to you: Don’t doubt yourself. Just go for it. Swing for the fences.”
Youngest Graduate and Morning Student Speaker
The student speaker at the 10 a.m. ceremony also carried the title of youngest of the entire graduating class. Phillip Means, 17, of Owings, received an associate degree in applied science and technology as a dual enrollment student. With many of his college classes counting toward his high school credits, he is receiving his high school diploma this year, too.
Means urged CSM students to stay connected to each other, and the college.
“As we prepare to move forward into our futures, I want to encourage all of us to stay connected to the CSM community,” he said. “We all have something in common, time spent in the classroom together and now a CSM credential. We need to continue building these relationships that will enhance our personal lives and professional futures. Let’s make it a point to keep in touch.”
Means went on to thank CSM Math and Physics Professors Josh Grosek and Jim McCray.
“[The professors] took time to write recommendation letters for me which led to me successfully getting a job offer,” Means said. “As I move forward in life, I want them to know that their work is not in vain! I will take what they have taught me and connect my learning to my work. Perhaps each of us should take a moment to reach out to a professor and share your success, and thank them for their efforts. We are now part of the lifelong CSM community.”
This fall, Means will continue his studies at the University of Alabama in the field of mechanical engineering.
Never Too Old to Try New Things
Veteran Navy Commander Jeff Foster, of La Plata, earned the bragging rights for the title of oldest graduate as he crossed the stage to receive his certificate for massage therapy. The certificate was the latest academic achievement for the 74-year-old who received his first bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary in 1967. His second four-year degree came when he completed the physical and academic rigors that came with Officer Candidate School when he enlisted immediately after college.
Having spent the majority of his military career at Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division (NSWC IHEODTD), Foster retired to work for a local defense contractor, then a homebuilder before he volunteered for 13 years for the ManKind Project. He said his latest endeavor at CSM was driven by a few factors.
“First and foremost, I wanted to be useful and do something for other veterans,” he shared, further explaining that once he passes his state license exam he plans to provide free massage therapy to needy, vulnerable and/or dependent veterans. “I also wanted to stay physically fit and get out to meet interesting people.”
It didn’t take long, Foster shared, until he met a lot of people.
“I was old enough to be everyone’s grandfather, and sometimes I think the young kids thought I was the teaching staff,” he laughed. “In a matter of a few short weeks, any feelings I had of being conspicuous melted away. And once the other students saw me wearing scrubs just like them, it didn’t take long before I felt accepted.”
He also said he plans to continue his studies at CSM and pursue his associate of applied science degree in massage therapy.
“Higher education requires an effort – a commitment,” he said. “I have a good foundation for massage therapy now, but I have a whole lot more to learn.
“Plus I want to come back and work with the other veterans on campus,” he continued, adding that he found fellowship in the La Plata Campus’ veteran’s lounge.
“CSM is good to veterans and is a great option for veterans who want to broaden their skills,” he said.
Encouragement Matters for Second Student Speaker
Sandra Husband, of Waldorf, wholeheartedly agrees with Foster. She received her associate degree in cybersecurity before taking the stage to address her fellow classmates in celebration of their accomplishments during the afternoon commencement. The vice president of the college’s Student Veterans Organization, Husband served in the U.S. Army for 28 years.
“It is hard to look back and not recall how I felt as I started this journey which we are here to celebrate,” Husband told her fellow classmates. “There I was, a single mother with a daughter who was a high school senior taking classes at the same campus as me with her as a dual-enrollee.” Husband further explained that her daughter Danielle went on to excel at Goucher College “thanks to the jump-start she received” at CSM.
Husband acknowledged that her academic career has not always been an easy one. She gave thanks to all of her professors after pointing to the first one who encouraged her to keep going.
“What we have learned while we have been at CSM is that sometimes it is a tough road,” she said. “Tough enough that we want to quit. But, when we get to that point, we find that person who will encourage us through the tough times. For me, that person was Professor Daphne Powell. Thank you, Professor Powell, for being that first person of many more who have encouraged me.”
Husband’s moving speech also brought thunderous applause when she spoke as a veteran and a wounded warrior and asked every veteran and active military service member in her class, and in the audience, to stand and be recognized for their service to the nation.
“I wish you the best in your future,” she said. “Look for an opportunity to give back and never stop dreaming and reaching for the stars.”
Husband plans to pursue her bachelor’s degree studies at the University of Maryland University College in cybersecurity with a goal of attaining a master’s degree in the field of digital forensics.
Double the Celebration for the Downs
Mechanicsville twins Shannon and Haley Downs shared their walk across the stage much like they shared the last two years of school, and work – together. While Shannon Downs graduated with her associate degree in hospitality management and Haley Downs in arts and sciences, the two had to share one car. So, along with achieving their degrees, they became masterful at scheduling.
“We had to plan our classes for the same days, and schedule everything down to when we would have lunch and go to work,” explained Shannon. “We both work at the same pharmacy so we worked the same work schedule on the same days. With the exception of our degree choices, we did everything together while at CSM.”
And together, the Downs became the first in their family to earn college degrees.
“We are the first two of our whole family from both of our parents’ sides to graduate from college,” Haley boasted proudly. As the daughters of Larry Downs and Linda Marie [nee Copsey] Downs, Haley said. “We wouldn’t have accomplished this if it wasn’t for our amazing parents, and the teachers we had at CSM to guide us the whole way.”
Their degree pursuits also had immediate and positive impact on Shannon’s bakery company, appropriately called ‘Shannon’s Country Bakery.’
“I do the baking,” Shannon explained. “And Haley does all the graphics and design work for our baked goods. As we were learning more and more in our degree programs, we were able to apply it to my business. My classes helped me tremendously with customer service.”
The Downs sisters agree they wouldn’t have traded their time at CSM to attend any other college.
“CSM was close to home and affordable,” Shannon said. “My hospitality classes were the greatest. Everyone got close and we built friendships we’ll keep forever.”
“I have progressed so much further as an artist,” added Haley. “I have created many artworks that I believe to be some of the best works I have ever made. I will miss attending these classes, and it will be the best memories that I will cherish forever.”
A Talon Takes Flight
For graduate Michael Balazs, of California, the most memorable moments of his two years at CSM are wrapped up in his time with the Talons – CSM’s competitive robotics team. As the team’s captain during the last academic year, he led the team through the rigor of the Vex World Championships to earn the rank of 11th best robotics team in the world.
“At first, my involvement on the Talons was strictly as a hobby, but we realized we were getting real world experience,” Balazs said. “As a team, we were collaborating, learning time management, applying what we learned in class, making mistakes and making improvements. It was an invaluable experience. I will never forget the people I was with and the accomplishments we had together.”
Balazs said he plans to pursue his four-year degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland through the Southern Maryland Mechanical Engineering Program (SMD-ME) through which he will receive full tuition assistance and internships while attending the University of Maryland A. James Clark School of Engineering – a path made attainable thanks to his time at CSM.
“Community college is truly a hidden gem,” said Balazs. “Through CSM I was able to achieve half of my degree for less than half the cost. CSM also gave me access to internships and other opportunities that don’t exist at four-year institutions.”
Balazs said he recommends CSM to anyone who is interested in reaching their potential.
“If someone is interested in a two-year degree or certificate then CSM is an affordable and convenient option,” he added. “If someone is interested in a four-year degree CSM is a great place to start. It’s affordable and the professors do an amazing job of ensuring you get the same quality education you’d get at a four-year institution.”
‘This is Just the Beginning’
Nancy Bryant, of Sunderland, earned her degree in Spanish. It was an accomplishment that was 42 years in the making. The 62-year-old started college in 1977 at California State University-Dominguez Hills.
“I got a little scared by one of the classes I took,” Bryant shared. “And I thought to myself, ‘I am never going to be able to speak a foreign language fluently and what will I ever do with a degree in foreign languages anyway?’” So she dropped out of college and went to work.
Fast forward into a marriage, children and a career that would bloom and grow on the East Coast and Bryant said every twist and turn led her to CSM in 2006, and eventually her degree … in a foreign language.
“I would take a class here, take a class there,” she said. “Thankfully, my employer let me work from home one day a week to allow me to get to night classes on time.”
Her employer – the national firm Hensel Phelps Construction – is where Bryant said she has taught more than 15,000 employees in the metropolitan area about safety in English and Spanish. “Between my classes at CSM and teaching, I could speak Spanish fluently enough to teach our classes,” she explained.
Her decision to hunker down and complete her degree evolved for two reasons.
“First, I figured out I never do things for myself,” she said. “I always do things for other people. What inspired me though, were my parents. They were always proud of me, and I am very close to them, but I think it was a disappointment to them I never completed my degree.”
Bryant’s father will turn 100 years old this year, and her mom, 91. “I wanted them to see me get my degree,” she said.
So, Bryant attended CSM’s Super Saturday, a do-it-all event for new students to explore campuses, complete placement tests and meet with advisers.
“The CSM advisors were amazing,” she said. “They helped me map out how to finish so the second thing that helped me complete my degree was attending Super Saturday and learning that I only needed four classes to graduate.””
Bryant said she is not stopping here.
“I have decided I will keep moving through and get more education,” she added. Again pointing to the CSM advisors, Bryant said she now knows what additional classes to take at CSM that will transfer to the University of Maryland.
“I am going to attend CSM some more, then I am not only going to go University of Maryland for my bachelor’s degree, I may go for my master’s. I may even get my doctorate and be the oldest person to ever cross the stage at a commencement.”
Trustee Distinguished Service Award
The CSM Trustees’ Distinguished Service Award was bestowed on CSM Board of Trustees Past Chair Dorothea Smith by CSM Board of Trustees Chair Theodore L. Harwood II, during the 10 a.m. commencement ceremony.
Appointed as a trustee to CSM’s board in 2007 and having served two terms as chair and two terms as vice chair, Smith’s service as a trustee concluded in 2018. Smith is a widely known and beloved educator who has touched the lives of many since beginning her 30-year teaching career in 1965 in the Charles County Public Schools.
She received the 2017 Trustee Leadership Award for the Northeast Region by the Association of Community Colleges Trustees; is a past recipient of the Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award presented by the Washington Post; and a recipient of the Charles County Teacher of the Year Award. A language arts-reading instructor of middle school students, Smith also held various positions on the executive board of the Education Association of Charles County and was the faculty representative to the teacher association for John Hanson Middle School.
“She has devoted so much time to the success to of the college, our employees, and most importantly our students,” said Harwood. “Her legacy and impact here at the college will lives on and on.”
Annual Faculty Excellence Award Honoring Faculty
The Annual Faculty Excellence Award Honoring Faculty was presented by CSM Faculty Senate President Dr. Sarah E. Merranko to Dr. Melanie Osterhouse, a professor of biology at CSM’s Prince Frederick Campus.
Osterhouse is acting chair of the Science and Engineering division for spring 2019 and previously served as program coordinator of Biological sciences. She is also the discipline coordinator for Allied Health Sciences.
“This year’s recipient has held multiple positions of institutional responsibility to include chair of the Faculty Evaluation Committee and chair of the Promotion-Tenure Committee,” said Merranko. “She serves on the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and the Academic Learning Assessment Committee. She is also part of the Honors Program Development Committee and has been active in mentoring new faculty.”
Along with being licensed as a Diplomate of the American Chiropractic Board of Radiology, Osterhouse is a sought-after speaker for chiropractic associations and conferences. She is also active in her community and serves as a Charter member with Project Lead the Way Advisory Board for the Calvert County Biomedical Program. She has also participated as a Science Fair Judge for the Charles and Calvert County Fairs.
Of her teaching, Osterhouse said, “I try to create a positive and engaging learning environment by building relationships with my students.”
Merranko also addressed the graduates during both commencement ceremonies, thanking the students for providing as many “teachable moments” for the faculty as hopefully the faculty did for them. Read her full speech here: https://news.csmd.edu/faculty/csm-faculty-senate-president-dr-sarah-e-merranko-talks-on-teachable-moments/
For a listing of all candidates for graduation, visit: https://news.csmd.edu/all-news/2019-spring-commencement-candidates-for-graduation/
For photos from the commencement ceremonies, visit: https://csmphoto.zenfolio.com/19springgrad.
Visit the CSM Newsroom throughout the week to read more graduation stories, including coverage of nursing recognition, Student Government awards and the Academic Excellence Award reception.