August 23, 2019

College Graduates Take the Stage

College Graduates

The 60th spring commencement at the College of Southern Maryland celebrated 522 candidates for 546 associate degrees and 244 certificates on May 17. The college graduates took the stage at the La Plata Campus.

Many CSM graduates completed their studies at the same time they were working, raising families, and volunteering in their communities. CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy said: “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 who earned awards at the ceremonies, 38 percent were from Charles County, 33 percent were from St. Mary’s County, 23 percent were from Calvert County, and 6 percent were from outside the local region.

The majority of associate degrees were awarded in the fields of general studies, arts and sciences, nursing, and business administration.

CSM Professor of English, Communication and Languages Dr. Richard Siciliano, who has worked at the college for 50 years – longer than anyone in the college’s history – was the keynote speaker.

Dr. Siciliano spoke to students about expectations.

“Expectations: Sometimes they don’t get realized,” he said. “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, Dr. Siciliano told 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 popular that 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,” Dr. 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.”

CSM Graduate Phillip Means, right, of Owings carries the CSM Student Mace while CSM Professor Dr. Richard Siciliano carries the CSM College Mace.

Youngest Graduate

The youngest CSM graduate, Phillip Means, 17, was a student speaker. The Owings resident earned 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, as well.

Mr. Means urged 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.”

This fall, Mr. Means will continue his studies at the University of Alabama in the field of mechanical engineering.

Never Too Old for New Things

Veteran Navy commander Jeff Foster, a La Plata resident, earned the title of oldest graduate as he crossed the stage to receive his certificate for massage therapy. The certificate was just 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 bachelor’s came when he completed the physical and academic rigors that came with Officer Candidate School when he joined the Navy immediately after college.

Having spent the majority of his career at Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division (NSWC IHEODTD), Mr. Foster retired to work for a local defense contractor, then a homebuilder before he spent 13 years volunteering for the ManKind Project. He said his latest endeavor at CSM was driven by several factors.

Jeff Foster as the oldest graduate received a certificate for massage therapy. Here, he celebrates the moment with CSM Professor Tara McManaway.

“First and foremost, I wanted to be useful and do something for other veterans,” he said, explaining that once he passes his state license exam he will 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.”

“I was old enough to be everyone’s grandfather, and sometimes I think the young kids thought I was the teaching staff,” he said with a laugh. “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.”

Encouragement Matters

Sandra Husband is the recipient of the Outstanding Cybersecurity award, given during the Academic Excellence Awards reception on May 15.
Ms. Husband, a Waldorf resident, received her associate degree in cybersecurity before taking the stage to address her fellow classmates in celebration of their accomplishments.  The vice president of the college’s Student Veterans Organization, Ms. Husband served in the US 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,” Ms. 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.” Ms. Husband said that her daughter Danielle went on to excel at Goucher College “thanks to the jump-start she received” at CSM.

Sandra Husband is the recipient of the Outstanding Cybersecurity award, presented during the Academic Excellence Awards reception on May 15.

Ms. Husband said her academic career has not always been an easy one. She gave thanks to all of her professors after pointing out 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.”

Ms. Husband will pursue her bachelor’s degree at the University of Maryland University College in cybersecurity with a goal of earning 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 graduated with her associate degree in hospitality management and Haley in arts and sciences, the two had to share a single car. So, along with achieving their degrees, they became masters of 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,” said 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 sisters became the first in their family to earn college degrees.

As the daughters of Larry Downs and Linda Marie 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.”

A Talon Takes Flight

For graduate Michael Balazs, 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, the California resident led the team through the rigor of the Vex World Championships to get the rank of 11th best robotics team in the entire 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.”

Mr. Balazs said he is going 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 as he attends the University of Maryland A. James Clark School of Engineering – a path made possible because of his time at CSM.

For a listing of all candidates for graduation, visit CSM online.

For photos from the commencement ceremonies, visit the college’s website.

For more about the College of Southern Maryland, visit its Leader member page.

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