CSM’s Professor Dr. Richard Siciliano Talks on Expectations During Keynote Address at 60th Spring Commencement

College of Southern Maryland Professor, Dr. Richard Siciliano, provided the keynote address at the college's 60th spring commencement on May 17 at the La Plata Campus.
“My advice to you: Don’t doubt yourself. Just go for it. Swing for the fences.”

The following remarks were offered by College of Southern Maryland Professor, Dr. Richard Siciliano, during the keynote address of the 60th spring commencement on May 17 at the La Plata Campus.

Students, your families and friends, my faculty colleagues, CSM staff (especially those who worked overtime behind the scenes to reconfigure this gymnasium and the AV crew that worked to get the technology just right), President Murphy, members of the college board of trustees, county dignitaries from Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s counties, but above all…. members of the class of 2019….

When President Murphy told me that the Board of Trustees had invited me to speak to you here today, I was “gobsmacked.” Really, that’s the word I used when I replied to her and said I’d be honored and humbled. Gobsmacked. It means utterly astonished, astounded, speechless, overwhelmed with wonder. It’s something that I never expected, never thought I would never be asked to give the graduation address. I’ve attended (marched in) 50 spring graduations, and 20 Winter graduations, but I never thought….

This should tell you that what you expect is often very different from the reality. And that’s the theme of my talk today.

My first challenge as I prepared to speak with your today was what to say to you today, specifically about “expectations.” So I sought the advice of my colleagues. They told me: Be brief. If I spoke too long, they said, I could expect rotten fruit tossed in my direction. I don’t want those behind me to get hit, so I’ll keep this short.

I asked my students: What could they tell me about “expectations.”

  • What did you, your family, friends, loved ones, acquaintances expect of you at CSM?
  • Did you have any doubts about making it? What words of encouragement did you hear?
  • And, what do you expect to hear from a graduation speaker, and what you would like to hear?

Here’s what some of you [graduates] told me:

  • I would expect to hear something about how through life there will be many obstacles trying to stop you, many people trying to tell you that you can’t do it but as long as you push through and stay focused you can and will be able to succeed. (Darby Bradburn, ENG 2145)
  • I would love to hear the truth from a graduation speaker. The hardships of school, the success of school and just how life truly is. Not a fairy tale story that is hard to believe or relate to. Every story doesn’t have to be a struggle; mine is certainly not, but every story must but true and from the heart. (MacKenzie Cherry, ENG 2145)

Expectations…. Sometimes they don’t get realized; sometimes you fail. Sometimes what you expect happens – a promise of something great in your future – happens and sometimes you miss the boat.

Which brings me to a real-life story – a true story — one that my grandmother told us as grandchildren and to her great-grandkids. Born in 1890, Emily grew up in the town of Sheffield, Yorkshire, England. She was raised by my great-grandmother Sarah Heming, a single mom who worked as a seamstress for a coffin maker. She sewed the linings in coffins, and she’d bring home the fine satin and lace remnants so she could sew them into dresses for Emily. Grandma Heming and daughter Emily lived with Sarah’s sister, and these ladies managed to make ends meet by pooling their earnings. Just barely. Emily, my Grandma Creswick, when she was 13 years old, had to go to work, because girls at that age in England could not continue public school once they reached age 13. But times were tough, and when my great-aunt died, Great-grandma Sarah and daughter Emily (grandma) decided to emigrate to America, and these ladies put aside money every week to pay installments for their passages to America. It took them more than a year, but they finally scraped enough money together for tickets. Their future looked better, and their expectations were optimistic.

Mid-March of 1912, the day came for Sarah, my great-grandmother, to make her final installment. But when she arrived at the bursar’s office for the steamship company, the clerk told her, “Sorry, Madame, this is the maiden voyage; passage on this ship is very much in demand, so the ticket price has increased.” An extra charge had been added, equal to another ticket, too much for Sarah and Emily to pay.

“Oh, that price is too dear. When is the next departure?”

“Not for another six months.”

“We’ll just have to wait” Disappointed and disillusioned, they had expected to leave England for the promise of a better life in America, and those expectations were shattered. The boat they’d depended on for their future, that they had saved to be on for so long, the ship that would lead them to a promising future? That boat was the HMS Titanic, and as you may know, it sank a month later, on April 15, 1912.

So, sometimes missing the boat can be fortuitous. 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. I didn’t know where, but that’s what I expected. I had managed to graduate from college in five years and was in grad school in Washington, D.C., but getting that first teaching job was a big question mark. Except for my wife of 53 years, Lee, and of course Grandma Emily, I was doubtful about my future. But they had hope for me, and great expectations.

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. 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.

In a couple of minutes, your names will be announced, and you will walk across this very stage to receive your certificate or degree. You will leave CSM for what you (and we) hope will be a future of promise and success. We all hope your expectations will be realized. But don’t forget this college and the friends you have met along the way, including your classmates, but also the faculty and staff here who have been here for you. Some of you have benefited from scholarships or grants, some from our advice and good counsel, but all of you have been the benefactors of a dedicated and caring group of people who have had your best interests at heart. Being graduates of CSM, you will become members of the Alumni Association, and I urge you to stay connected. The benefits you have received from CSM? Pay it forward, if not here at this college, then to the greater community. Expect to hear from the Alumni Association after you move on from CSM. And don’t hang up when CSM calls.

Finally, I want to leave you with a short video. I teach English courses, and some of the courses I teach are film courses – Film as an Art Form, American Cinema and Culture, and the U.S. Civil War in Film and Literature. [To the graduates]: Raise your hands if you have taken any of those courses. Those who have taken one of those courses learned how to analyze films, to write about them, and maybe even to learn about life analyzing films. There’s a movie that speaks to the theme I’ve talked about today – that you should trust in yourself and strive to go beyond what you (and others) might expect of you. The movie is “Moneyball” starring Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt. It’s the true-life story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics major league baseball team and what its manager Billie Beane did after its owners sold off its all-star players in an effort to cut costs. This scene is about the expectations we set for ourselves based on what other people think or say of us.

Graduates, you’re good eggs. On behalf of the CSM Alumni Association, I’ll call you…