The College of Southern Maryland (CSM) celebrated 470 candidates for 462 associate degrees and 214 certificates during its 61st Spring Commencement Ceremony, held May 29. The 2020 graduating class boasts several unique characteristics, chief among them that they are the first CSM graduates to turn their tassels in a virtual ceremony shared on social media.
Of the students being celebrated during the online ceremony, 172 are from Charles County, 164 are from St. Mary’s County, 109 are from Calvert County and 25 are from outside of the region. Sixty-one percent of the graduates are women and 39% are men.
The majority of degrees, or 26.2%, were in the field of arts and sciences, nursing (13.2%), business administration (8%), and engineering (4.5%). General study transfers, business management, cybersecurity and alcohol and drug counseling were the primary certificates awarded. The oldest graduate is 68 years young and the youngest is 17 years old.
The event was driven to a web-based experience in response to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s guidance to maintain physical distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. And moving the ceremony to a safer platform was not the only history CSM made at this commencement.
The virtual ceremony drew more than 3,000 viewers; where normally about 1,200 people, including students, attend in person.
It was a rite of passage this year, marked by pre-recorded speeches, video salutes from professors, graduate Alexandra Grace Knudsen’s memorizing rendition of the national anthem, graduate photos and quotes, and a webpage filled with well-wishes from local, regional and state politicians. Facebook viewers users left more than 750 comments and clicked their love, like and hug button more than 300 times. By noon, more than 30,000 people had interacted with the CSM’s 2020 Spring Commencement webpage.
“Thank you for being here this morning – online with the College of Southern Maryland family – to celebrate the amazing achievements of our candidates for graduation and for the first time in our history doing so in a virtual commencement ceremony,” began CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy as she kicked off the ceremony for an 11 a.m. watch party on Facebook.
Calling the graduating class as “extraordinary,” Murphy told the viewers how the events of 2020 had “demonstrated with unequivocal force what it means to persevere.”
“This pandemic is like nothing any of us have ever experienced,” she said. “It is a frightening marathon, with no end in sight. For the last three months, you have stayed home and studied. You have volunteered in our communities. You have worked as first responders on the front lines helping to fight this virus. You have been the essential workforce that kept us all going.
“And some of you fell ill and many of you lost jobs,” she added. “Yet, you come before us today – as college completers … And if the way that all of you, the Spring 2020 candidates for graduation, have handled yourselves through this year is any indicator, our world is in good hands. Your amazing, resilient and powerful hands.”
‘Be Present, Make Every Second Count’
Student Speaker Katelyn Kluh, of La Plata, told her classmates that if the COVID-19 pandemic has taught her anything, it’s to indeed be resilient and make every second count.
“If you knew a few months back about the looming pandemic and that we would soon be stuck at home, would you have done things differently?” was one of several questions she asked. “If I have learned anything during this time, it is that you cannot take people or experiences for granted. We often forget that things can change in an instant. Plans change, circumstances change, we ourselves change … It is often our ability to adapt to change – our resiliency – that defines us. A resilient mindset is one of strength and self-awareness.”
Kluh, a two-sport, student athlete, earned All-Academic First Team honors for achieving a 4.0 grade point average (GPA) in her freshman year. A Greater Waldorf Jaycees Scholarship recipient, she played middle hitter for the CSM Hawks volleyball team in the fall and a center on the CSM women’s basketball team in the winter. Kluh was one of 1,552 NJCAA student athletes in the nation to make the All-Academic First Team by maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
“This past season, my basketball coach would always tell us to play every game like it was our last,” she shared. “He’d say, ‘You never know what could happen when you walk out of this gym. Play like this is the last time you will see the court; be present and make every moment count.’ I didn’t truly get it until now.”
After giving special shout-outs to Sociology Professor Dr. Maria Bryant and Student Life Coordinator Melissa Chambers, Kluh shared her respect for her time at CSM.
“I can honestly say that coming to CSM was the best decision I could have made for myself,” she said. “I had the opportunity to explore different interests, participate as an NJCAA dual-sport athlete, continue my passion for student government, meet a network of amazing and supportive individuals, and even graduate with two associate’s degrees debt-free. Opportunity is here, if you choose to take it. I believe that I have really made the most out of my two years spent at CSM.”
Be Like a Chickadee
CSM Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Eileen Abel took a few moments to explain how the tiny black-capped chickadee – “a common enough songbird, but among the cutest and chattiest” – grows its brain each time it creates a memory.
“These birds hide their food in order to have it available in times of low food supply,” Abel shared. “They can remember their caches for up to several months and never—never—use the same cache. So what? You say.
“Here’s the so-what: They can remember up to 100,000 caches a season,” she continued. “One hundred thousand! Some of us can’t remember where we put our keys in the morning, but the half-ounce chickadee – no bigger than a thumb – can remember 100,000 food caches.”
Further, she shared, when chickadees are held in captivity, they don’t have to remember to plan, store or forage and thereby lose their ability to grow their brains.
“You’re college graduates and understand the art of metaphor,” she reflected. “Be like the chickadee—use every opportunity to grow your brains, your very survival will depend on it. And never, never stop learning.”
The Most Important Thing We Seek: Happiness
“Never stop learning,” repeated Dr. Sarah E. Merranko, CSM professor in the Division of English, Communications and Languages and president of the CSM Faculty Senate. “Our learning does not stop the moment we complete college. It is often said that life is a journey, not a destination. Learning is also a journey, not a destination.”
Merranko pointed out that while education teaches us how to survive in a competitive world, learning helps accomplish the most important thing we all seek in our lives: Happiness.
“The learning that you seek out on your own beyond the classroom and throughout your life will be the most important work you ever do for yourself,” she said.
Oldest Graduate Benjamin Brown
At 68, Lusby resident Benjamin Brown is certain of his goal. He wants to be a lawyer, and after getting his associate’s degree from CSM, he is on his way to Bowie State University for the next leg of his academic journey. His is a journey that has carried a life-long hard lesson from his youth and a high school diploma he finally earned when he turned 64 through Calvert County Public Schools at the Hunting Creek Annex.
Brown is not shy about sharing that he was with the wrong crowd in the wrong place when he made a bad decision at age 17. The decision cost him four years of his life to the penal system – and changed his focus forever.
“I knew when I walked out of those gates, I had to work on me,” he said. After incarceration, Brown went on to marry, parent his children, brag about his grandchildren and have a successful 30-year career as a machinist for a box company before retiring in 2011.
“It was after I retired, that I realized something was tugging at me,” he said. “I remembered that as a child, I wanted to be lawyer. I wish my mom was still alive to see me graduate from the National External Diploma Program first, and then from CSM. She always said, ‘You want to be a lawyer? Go do it!’ So, I did.”
Brown said that his words of wisdom for his fellow classmates is straightforward.
“Do everything you can do, right.” he said. “And don’t let anyone or anything stop you from doing the right thing. Stay focused on a plan and don’t let nothing stand in your way of achieving it.”
Youngest Graduate Allison Perusse
Allison Perusse began her academic career with CSM when she was 15 and living in Lexington Park. As a homeschooler, she dual-enrolled at CSM and transitioned smoothly to a full-time student in 2018. At age 17, she earned the title of the youngest graduate at CSM’s 2020 Spring Commencement.
Perusse holds another point of distinction. She moved to Tampa, Florida, and was finishing all of her classes to attain her degree through distance learning when CSM moved to remote operations due to COVID-19.
“This whole pandemic didn’t impact me at all academically because I had already moved to a virtual environment,” she said. “The only thing that changed was that I didn’t have to return to Maryland to take my Spanish final.”
While Perusse had great praise for her instructors, she said her best move at CSM was to join the Leonardtown Campus Student Association.
“The professors at CSM are passionate, they really care,” she said. “Every single student association meeting was so student-oriented and student-focused. Looking back, I am so glad I was at CSM where I could learn more about myself, afford to change my major and get involved in college activities.”
12 Promise Scholars Turn Their Tassels
Another first for this spring commencement was celebrating its first Promise graduates. Last fall semester, CSM welcomed its first 153 recipients of the Maryland Community College Promise Scholarship, helping to launch the inaugural semester for the state initiative aimed at helping Maryland’s families afford college. This semester, 12 of those scholars graduated in the Spring 2020 Commencement, including Llana Coloma, of Waldorf.
“It means so much to my parents and me that I was able to receive this scholarship,” Coloma said. “I worked part time as a student assistant to be able to pay for books and a part of my tuition while my parents helped me pay for the rest. The scholarship is such an amazing opportunity because being able to save money any way you can for your future is so important. It is also a stepping stone for my education after CSM. It is a way for me to be able to see ahead into my plans for university.”
Coloma is studying to be a speech pathologist and has made the Dean’s list every semester (fall 2018, spring 2019, summer 2019). She plans to attend the University of Maryland, College Park, and pursue a bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders.
“I just want to thank not only my family and friends, but the family I have also created at CSM for pushing me to get out of my shell and to always do my best,” Coloma said. “Without their guidance and wisdom, I don’t think I’d be the person that I am today. Being able to graduate during these times shows the perseverance and determination that we all have inside of us and our capability to go beyond what we think we can do.”
CSM had the second-most Promise Scholarships awarded in Maryland in both recipients and total dollars awarded, $565,558.
CSM Adjunct Math Instructor and Doctoral Student – Finishing What She Started
Jehnae Linkins, of Indian Head, started attending CSM in 2011 as a dual-enrolled student while at Lackey High School. After graduating high school, she went on to Lincoln University, Pennsylvania and earned her bachelor degree in physics. From there, she continued to the University of Maryland where she is currently a doctoral student pursuing her degree in mechanical engineering.
Despite her academic accomplishments, Linkins returned to CSM this spring to take one class and gain her AA degree in General Studies.
“I like to finish what I start,” she said.
It is no coincidence that her pursuit was made easier by the fact she is also concurrently an adjunct instructor in CSM’s math department and serves as the college’s Engineering Club co-advisor. “I suspect that I am graduating with some of the students I taught along the way,” she laughed.
As a staunch advocate of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs, Linkins has worked as an instructor for the college’s Engineer Like a Girl summer program at the Leonardtown Campus for the last five years.
“I am very proud of the opportunities CSM provides women who are interested in STEM,” Linkins explained. “For me, I don’t see women who look like me in my doctoral studies, but I do see a lot who do at CSM and I am glad to have a part in getting them started early in their academic careers.”
Linkins’ passion is no secret. She said it is the platform that earned her the title of Miss Federal Triangle and will carry her through the Miss District of Columbia pageant where she will compete for the crown in August.
To view the list of graduates by name, visit: https://news.csmd.edu/all-news/csm-announces-2020-spring-commencement-candidates-for-graduation/
To view the CSM 2020 Spring Commencement Watch Party, visit: https://www.facebook.com/CollegeofSouthernMaryland/videos/1023769371354315/?type=3&comment_id=10157414516840794¬if_id=1590764389641172¬if_t=feedback_reaction_generic
To view individual photos, well-wishes and learn more about the CSM 2020 Spring Commencement, visit: https://www.csmd.edu/csmgrad2020
CSM will maintain a virtual learning environment for its students, and faculty and staff will continue to operate remotely, or in restricted mode, through Aug. 16, 2020. CSM’s campuses remain restricted to pre-approved and authorized personnel. This date could change.
Along with limiting public access to campuses, CSM has made several operational changes that can be tracked at ready.csmd.edu/covid-19/. Please visit the website often for resources and updates.