April 17, 2024

60th Commencement, 50th year for Siciliano


As the longest serving College of Southern Maryland employee, Dr. Richard Siciliano has seen many changes. To honor his long commitment to the college of more than 50 years, Dr. Siciliano was invited to be the keynote speaker for its 60th spring commencement May 17, 2019, at the La Plata Campus.

The professor spoke to students at the commencement, but was also sure to acknowledge the work of other staff and faculty, from the professors who teach to the employees who worked overtime to set up the commencement ceremonies. As he began his speech, he said that the invitation from Dr. Maureen Murphy, CSM president, had completely shocked him.

“It’s something that I never expected, never thought I would ever be asked to give the graduation address,” he said. “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.”

Dr. Siciliano said that as he prepared his speech, he spoke to his students about expectations, asking: “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?”

Dr. Siciliano said one student told him she expected to hear about the possibility of obstacles, but that success means pushing through and staying focused; another said she would rather hear the truth from a speaker, about how life is not a fairly tale, but that every story “must be true and from the heart.”

In response, the professor decided to tell a story his grandmother used to tell.

“Born in 1890, Emily grew up in the town of Sheffield, Yorkshire, England,” he said of his grandmother. “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.”

When she was just 13, his grandmother had to take a job because girls could not attend public school after 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.”

Finally, the day came for the women to make their final installment for their passage to America. However, when Sarah went to the bursar’s office for the steamship company, she was told that the boat’s maiden voyage had become too much in demand, and the price had gone up considerably. She not longer had enough money. It would be six more months before another chance was to come along.

“Disappointed and disillusioned, they had expected to leave England for the promise of a better life in America, and those expectations were shattered.” But the story hardly ends there. “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.”

Dr. Siciliano then went on to say that while he has been at CSM more than 50 years now, he never expected to stay more than a couple of years.

“I had managed to graduate from college in five years and was in grad school in Washington, DC, 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.”

The professor said he knows that many of the students he was speaking to had similar experiences about their own expectations, and that some had taken some time to meet their goals.

“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.”

As he concluded his speech, Dr. Siciliano reminded the students that they should never forget CSM and its part in their future success.

“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.”

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