CSM holds 18th annual winter graduation
988 awarded degrees Thursday
One graduate survived a 40-foot plunge off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge; another waited decades to fulfill her dream of attending college. No matter their background, every College of Southern Maryland student had a story that led to their walking across the stage last week to receive their diploma.
CSM held its 18th Annual Winter Commencement last Thursday, recognizing the graduation of 688 attending students in its associate’s degree and certificate programs on its La Plata campus in the Physical Education building gymnasium.
“Every one of our students has a story, and I wish I could tell you about every one of them,” CSM President Bradley Gottfried said. “This is what this college is about; it’s about hopes, it’s about dreams, and it’s about helping students move in the right direction towards their future.”
In all, the college awarded 688 associate degrees and 320 certificates, although not all graduates were in attendance.
The majority of graduates, 92 percent, hail from Southern Maryland, according to CSM, and 20 percent of graduates earned a Grade Point Average of 3.5 or greater.
For Lusby native Morgan Lake, only miraculous fortune and a sheer will to live allowed her long-delayed graduation.
On July 19, 2013, Lake, now of Bowie, was struck by a tractor trailer on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which connects Maryland’s Eastern Shore and Western Shore, while driving to Philadelphia to visit friends.
“As soon as he hit me, everything exploded,” Lake recalled. “The force of the impact pushed me into the car in front of me, sandwiched me, then the second impact pushed me onto the jersey wall of the bridge.”
The car was propelled into the air where it landed straddling the bridge’s concrete wall. It balanced precariously there for a while before tipping over into the Chesapeake Bay, sinking upside down.
“After I stopped panicking, a wave of calmness came over me, an angelic calmness,” Lake said. “I remember taking my seatbelt off, I remember trying to visualize in my head where the window was, and when I did that, I was able to grab the sides of the window and pull myself out, and use it to push off.”
Lake managed to escape her vehicle and swim for shore. Her dramatic escape was captured on video by a passing motorist and made national news.
Lake, 26, said it took some time before she felt ready to complete her studies in communications at CSM.
“After that, I took a [two and a half year] break from school. I just had to,” Lake said.
Lake said she is transferring to Bowie State Univer- sity with a concentration in broadcast journalism.
“I’m so excited to be graduating and continuing my studies despite all that I’ve been through,” Lake said. “It doesn’t matter when you start, what matters is when you finish, and I’m going to keep going to follow all my dreams despite whatever has happened to me in the past.”
Another graduate, Bettie-Phillips Jackson of Waldorf, served 22 and a half years with the U.S. Army.
“But I always wanted to have that college experience,” Jackson said. “To be on a college campus, eat in the lunchroom, carry a backpack, have study groups, all that stuff. I always wanted that, but I never had that opportunity, being the daughter of a sharecropper, so I entered the military.”
Jackson decided to enroll at CSM and study hospitality management.
At 64, Jackson was the oldest graduate to cross the stage Thursday night. Jackson said attending college with classmates younger than her children was intimidating at first.
“It was really different. They think different, they act different, they dress different,” Jackson said. “But I found that what I brought to
the table was determination, to show them how to do things. They had the youth, but I had the knowledge, the life experience.”
Jackson said she plans to continue her education, pursuing a second associate’s degree in criminal justice.
Another graduate, Allen Tengco of Waldorf, was one of only four men amongst the 50 students who graduated from the college’s nursing program.
“This is the best career field I could have chosen — to help others with my interest in science, anatomy, physiology. If I want direct patient contact, nursing is the way to go,” said Tengco, a 2013 graduate of North Point High School.
Nursing is one of the four biggest majors at CSM, along with business management, arts and sciences and general studies, but enrollment gears heavily towards women. Tengco, however, said being outnumbered was an asset.
“It was nice being surrounded by some of the nicest ladies on campus,” Tengco said. “We became a very integrated family, from beginning to end.”
Tengco, 21, was the recipient of the prestigious Achievement in Nursing Award, given by faculty to a student who shows excellence in clinical performance, academics and community service.
“I could name probably five people who I think deserved it more than me, but I’m very humbled to receive this award,” Tengco said.
Tengco said he plans to attend the University of Maryland School of Nursing, where he intends to continue his graduate studies and become a nurse practitioner specializing in acute care.
Graduating is bittersweet, Tengco said.
“It made me a little sad, putting on the cap and gown, because I’ve made such close relationships over the past few years, so it’s sad to separate from all the people I’ve met,” Tengco said.
Andrew Hackney of Mechanicsville, the student speaker at graduation, made extensive use of scholarships to pay for college.
“I didn’t want to finish college owing any debt, so I took the time to apply for a lot of scholarships,” said Hackney, 21. “I got my first scholarships in high school, carried those to CSM, and I kept applying for more while I was at CSM. The only thing I paid out-ofpocket were textbook costs.”
The 2013 Chopticon High School graduate said he did extensive research into scholarships, and applied for as many as he could.
A general studies graduate, Hackney said attending CSM for his first two years of college was part of his overall plan to avoid taking on any student debt.
“I knew that the cost was cheaper [at CSM], so I didn’t want to start at a four-year university,” Hackney said.
Hackney said he is transferring to the University of Mary- land Baltimore County where he plans to major in political science. He urged graduating high school and college students to apply for as many scholarships as possible.
“I just hope that everyone applies for lots of scholarships, because I want everyone to try to graduate debt-free, but obviously not everyone has that luxury, but I want everyone to be smart about how they go to college,” Hackney said. “There are tons of scholarships out there; some of them you have to write essays for, but some of them you just fill out your name and mark, ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘male’, ‘female’. There are scholarships out there for everybody.”
During the graduation ceremony, the college also recognized former Board of Trustees member James K. Raley Jr. with emeritus status, and Michael and Liz Chiaramonte and Marianne Harms with the Trustees’ Distinguished Service Award.
Adjunct Professor Denise Snee of the Languages and Literature Division was awarded the Annual Faculty Excellence Award Honoring Adjunct Faculty.
Graduation speaker Roz Plater, Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist and Calvert County native, told graduates they are about to enter a new chapter in their life story and to pursue their dreams no matter what roadblocks they encounter.
“What I want for your story is I want you to have health, I want you to have happiness, and I want you to find your passion, and I want you to promise me that you will sometimes take a leap of faith, that you will work, and fight hard for your dreams, and that you will go out there and get your life,” Plater said.
A graduating student wears a decorated cap during the College of Southern Maryland’s 18th Annual Winter Commencement ceremonies Thursday.
Bettie-Phillips Jackson of Waldorf helps Morgan Lake of Bowie fix her cap just prior to graduation ceremonies at the College of Southern Maryland Thursday evening.
Broadcast journalist and Calvert County native Roz Plater was the graduation speaker during the College of Southern Maryland’s 18th Annual Commencement ceremonies Thursday.
Family, friends and well-wishers line the basketball bleachers in the College of Southern Maryland’s gymnasium during the 18th Annual Winter Commencement ceremonies Thursday.