CSM Newsroom

CSM Celebrates Graduates at 25th Winter Commencement

January 17, 2024

The College of Southern Maryland (CSM) recognized 434 candidates for 350 degrees and 171 certificates during its 25th Winter Commencement ceremonies Jan. 12. in a day filled with joyous applause, tears, photo sessions, and pop-up celebrations at the college’s La Plata Campus.

Thirty-six percent of the students were from Charles County, 35 percent were from St. Mary’s County, 26 percent were from Calvert County and the remainder lived out of the area. The most attained degrees were Arts and Sciences, Nursing, Business Administration and Cybersecurity. The most popular certificates were General Studies Transfer, Cybersecurity, Emergency Medical Services/Paramedic and Business Management. Twenty-three percent of those earning associate degrees graduated with honors.

The graduates ranged in age from 15 years old to 76 years young, with the youngest, Morayo Owopetu, having taken classes at CSM since she moved to the United States. from Nigeria at 10 years old.

“My grade level wasn’t challenging enough, so my mom signed me up for college classes to keep me learning,” she said. “The whole time I was in middle and high school, I was taking college credits.”

Owopetu finished her CSM General Studies degree last summer and is now enrolled at Nova Southeastern University with the goal of earning her Doctorate of Dental Medicine.

Owopetu’s story is just one of the incredible student journeys CSM celebrated during three commencement ceremonies at the college’s PE Building in La Plata. School of Liberal Arts candidates for graduation received their degrees and certificates at 10 a.m., the School of Professional and Technical Studies candidates at 1 p.m., and the School of Science and Health candidates at 4 p.m.

Remember, There is a Trail Behind You

CSM President Dr. Yolanda Wilson welcomed the graduates at each ceremony with warm regards, congratulations and memories of her own college graduation.

“Today, we celebrate your extraordinary achievement that required you to stretch and to grow in ways that you may not have imagined,” she told the students. “You have exhibited strength of mind, strength of heart, and strength of will, and because of that, you --- have inspired us.”

Wilson reflected on the words gifted to her by her uncle at her own graduation and in her words, were “steeped with emotion.”

“He said, “You’ve looked back, neicy, and you’ve looked forward,” she shared. “Now it’s time to make progress. Remember—there is a trail behind you.

And with great resolve, expectation, and responsibility,” she continued, “I had looked forward to using my education to make a difference in the lives of others – recognizing that this gift of scholarship and service, sponsorships and mentorships, leadership and opportunity are not for me to hoard alone – but to share with others – those with access to opportunities, but even more importantly, to share with those without.”

She then paid her uncle’s advice forward.

“Like my uncle gifted me, I now gift you with the charge of giving back to the communities that have given so much to you,” Wilson offered. “That, my friends, is how we all make progress, and that is how we all collectively succeed. Congratulations dear graduates on this incredible honor and my very best wishes to you as you depart CSM to lead, to serve and to lift.”

The College Graduate is the Mechanic of Culture

CSM Faculty Senate President George Bedell also addressed graduates at each ceremony, and he too reflected on his time as a college student.   

“In reflecting upon what it means to be a college graduate, I found myself thinking about something one of my professors said to me when I was in graduate school many years ago,” he shared. “Thus was a teacher who some people considered to be brilliant, and some people considered to be pretty crazy – I will just say that those two states of being are not mutually exclusive … One day, he said, in his distinctive North Florida drawl ‘George, the artist is the mechanic of the culture…if you see something wrong out there, you’ve got to tune it up.’  But it occurs to me that Jim’s statement works just as well if we say, the college graduate is the mechanic of the culture. 

“You have power now to make your own lives better, but you can also use that power to make other people’s lives better, to make the world more livable, more just,” he continued. “You have a world of opportunity in front of you, but I would also argue, a world of responsibility. Please consider embracing this role of cultural mechanic. You have learned valuable skills, you have studied great ideas, you have pursued your education and succeeded.  Now is the time for you to take all of that, and to get out there, and make a difference.”


10 a.m. School of Liberal Arts: Let Challenges Empower You

nz9_1097.jpgThe School of Liberal Arts ceremony began with a processional led by Professor Neal Dwyer and an inspiring rendition of the national anthem sung by CSM student Abigail McDanal, who offered her beautiful voice and talent throughout the day’s three ceremonies.

Graduating student Stacy Sneed, of Charles County, addressed her classmates as their student keynote speaker. She graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in Arts and Sciences, and will be continuing her education at Bowie State University majoring in Communication/Broadcast Journalism.

Sneed, pictured right, came to CSM as an adult learner. She began her remarks by thanking the people who have supported her, including her husband, children, sisters, and professors. She then shared how the difficulties she experienced after being diagnosed with sarcoidosis changed her life.

“I woke up one day and decided to take those things that were hurting me, and challenging me, and allow them instead – to empower me,” she said. She shared that she also created the "Purple Makeup Movement" and the "Purple Shirt, and Tie Movement" to support those living with the same condition. She also founded Women of Life Changing Inc., a Non-profit organization that offers support to individuals experiencing life-changing events.

“I promise each of you, if you help others, you’ll find that you will not only heal others; you will heal yourself in ways you didn’t even know you needed,” Sneed shared. “As we move forward, let's remember all the valuable tools and lessons we have learned throughout our academic journey. Let's use our education, skills, and experiences to make a positive impact on the world. Whether it's in our personal or professional lives, we have the power to create meaningful change and contribute to a better future for all.”

Trustee Distinguished Service Award

nz9_1189.jpgBefore the degrees were awarded, Chair of CSM Board of Trustees Shawn Coates presented the Trustee Distinguished Service Award to The Patuxent Partnership Executive Director Bonnie Green, pictured right.

“Since 2007, The Patuxent Partnership has been a loyal supporter and advocate of CSM, having committed more than $400,000 in funding for science, technology, engineering and mathematics scholarships, the CSM Robotics Team – “The Talons,” STEM programming, and cybersecurity initiatives,” Coates said.

More recently, Coates added, Green found support to enhance, expand, and upgrade the College of Southern Maryland cyber labs at CSM’s Leonardtown and Prince Frederick Campuses through the Southern Maryland 2030 Workforce Development initiative. Green is passionate about education and understands how important it is to partner with CSM to create vitality in our community.

“I am honored to acknowledge publicly – my dear colleague and thought partner, Bonnie Green,” added Wilson. “Bonnie, thank you for your warm welcome when first we met, your steadfast outreach these last 12 months, and your ongoing transparent discussions with me and my CSM team to help us get better, partner better, and serve better this wonderful southern MD region we call home. You are true advocate of education and friend to our students!”


1 p.m. School of Professional and Technical Studies: Talk Without Action is Just a Dream

At the 1 p.m. commencement, the processional of students was led by Dr. Mary Beth Klinger.

Keynote Student Speaker Jordan Riggs, of St. Mary’s County, led and addressed his classmates after thanking those who helped him along his path, particularly Student Need, Resource and Outreach Coordinator and Adjunct Faculty Instructor Jehnell Linkins who helped him through a tough time when he began to doubt his abilities.

“I started to question whether college was even for me or should I join the military, get a job, and leave college behind,” he admitted. “Then, I met Mrs. Jehnell Linkins! I shared my concerns about the engineering program and asked her whether she thought I belonged here because I felt I did not look smart enough to fit in. I will never forget her response. She said, ‘Jordan, how do you look smart? I didn’t know smart had a look.’ When I heard that, it changed my whole perspective not just about engineering, but life in general... I no longer assume people are smarter than me by the way they look.”

nz9_1571.jpgDuring his time at CSM, Riggs, pictured right, served as the President of the National Society of Black Engineers Southern Maryland Chapter and he shared that he will always look back fondly at his time at the college.

“I am so excited that I will be attending North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, the number #1 Historically Black College & University for Engineering!” he said. “However, I will always be proud to be a Hawk!”

Riggs told his fellow graduates to be that person for someone else.

“I challenge each of you to be the person you needed when you were younger and to remain focused on your goal no matter what the circumstances bring,” he said. “Remember, talk without action is just a dream.”

From left, Senate Faculty President George Bedell, CSM President Dr. Yolanda Wilson, CSM Forensic Adjunct Professor Megan Roberts and CSM Board of Trustee Shawn Coates pose for a photo.

The Evidence is Clear, Megan Roberts is an Excellent Adjunct Professor

Before the degrees were conferred at the 1 p.m. ceremony, Bedell presented the Adjunct Faculty Excellence award to Adjunct Professor of Forensics Megan Roberts. The honor is given yearly to an adjunct faculty member for outstanding achievement in classroom teaching, contributions both to their department and the college, professional development and community commitment.

As an instructor in CSM’s Criminal Justice program, Roberts brings forensic analysis to life for her students. She incorporates innovative activities in her classes, creating mock evidence her students can utilize for hands-on experiences and inviting guest speakers to talk about their roles in the profession. As a result, her classes have the highest enrollment in the department. She is also a standout in her field. A CSM alumna who completed her bachelor’s degree at Stevenson University, she works as the crime lab supervisor for the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office and is involved in many community activities. She is currently helping to create a Criminal Justice Lab at CSM to further enhance the student immersive experience

“Adjunct Instructor Roberts is a professional in her field and all-around good and humble person that this world needs more of. CSM is lucky to have her on our team,” Bedell said.


4 p.m. School of Science and Health: Our Extraordinary Journey Starts Now

The final commencement ceremony got underway with a processional led by Professor Sharon Smith-Douglas.

Keynote Speaker and Nursing student Emily Nolen, of Calvert County, led and addressed her class during the ceremony.

nz9_1806.jpgNolen, pictured right, shared that she returned to school after a decade as a stay at home mom and made a point to thank those who helped her to care for her children while she earned her degree.  She expressed that though she and her classmates come from diverse backgrounds and started the program as strangers, they are now united by their friendship and their desire to improve the world.

“Each of us has come from different backgrounds and different worldviews,” she said. “There are so many differences that set us apart, but we all have one thing in common: And that is a passion for healthcare and helping people. All our accomplishments within CSM’s School of Science and Health have always meant that we seek to help people and that we are building careers that will impact the greater good.”

Nolen also shared some of her experiences from when she volunteered at an orphanage in Ethiopia with her classmates. 

"If I can encourage you in one thing it would be to travel and explore the world off the beaten path," she offered. "Experience other countries as a student, not as a tourist. Be open to learning new cultures and customs. I promise you, it will expand your worldview and maybe even change some of your long-held perspectives. Be open to new experiences and strive for personal growth as it will only benefit you in your chosen career. Imagine how much better the world would be if we just sought understanding and compassion as we interacted with others." 

She continued by encouraging her classmates to take a moment to savor their accomplishment.

“We are on the precipice of something wonderful,” Nolen shared. “This is another defining moment in our lives. Tomorrow we will go forward along the path we have chosen and worked so hard for, but for today – let’s acknowledge the success of a job well done. Our extraordinary journey starts now.”

A video of each commencement will also be available for viewing on the college’s YouTube channel -- https://www.youtube.com/@CSMDTube/playlists. Photos from graduation are now available at https://csmphoto.zenfolio.com/24jangrad. Photos are free to download.

CMS Page Edit