CSM Commemorates 65th Spring Commencement with 449 Candidates Receiving 367 Degrees, 111 Certificates

May 13, 2024

The College of Southern Maryland (CSM) celebrated its time-honored graduation ceremonies in front of a packed house during its 65th Spring Commencement May 10. The college celebrated 449 candidates for graduation for earning 367 degrees and 111 certificates during three commencement ceremonies marked with laughter, cheers and applause.

Of the students being celebrated, 46.3 percent were from Charles County, 30.5 percent were from St. Mary’s County, 21.8 percent were from Calvert County and 1.3 percent were from outside the region. Sixty-five percent of the graduates are women and 35 percent are men. 29.7 percent of the students graduated with honors.

The majority of degrees, 17.4 percent, were in the field of arts and sciences, nursing (16.3 percent), business administration (7.1 percent), cybersecurity (6.8 percent) and engineering (4.4 percent). The top certificates obtained were in general studies transfer. The youngest graduate, Rachel Jones, of Waldorf, is 17 years old and the oldest graduate, Barbara White, also of Leonardtown is 69 years young.

‘Now is the Time to Make Progress’ 

The ceremonies highlighted each of CSM’s three schools: The School of Liberal Arts, the School of Professional and Technical Studies and the School of Science and Health.

At all three commencement ceremonies, CSM President Dr. Yolanda Wilson reflected on her own graduation, and the words of her uncle to her: “You’ve looked back … and you’ve looked forward. Now it’s time to make progress. Remember—there is a trail behind you.”

She invited students to pause, look back in reflection and gratitude, look forward with anticipation to the opportunities that lie before them, and then commit to making progress.

“As you are lifted up in this moment, graduates, remember to reach back and reach out to lift up those around you,” she challenged. “Extend your hand in assistance, volunteer your time in engagement, and offer kindness in places where the light is dim and words of grace are few. As you depart from CSM as leaders in our community, stand tall in your willingness to serve because there is a trail behind you.

“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,” she said. “That, my friends, is how we all make progress, and that is how we all collectively succeed.”

Faculty Senate President George Bedell also addressed students at all three ceremonies, offering his commentary on the necessity of embracing new experiences at this time of transition in graduates’ lives.

“As you leave here today, crossing the threshold as a new college graduate, I encourage you to keep the spirit of learning alive, embracing the new, and even the strange, and expanding your conception of the world whenever you can,” he told graduates. “Your intellectual curiosity can lead you to a life of continuous learning – and that is a rich life indeed.”

CSM Board of Trustee Chair Shawn Coates introduced the keynote student speaker at each ceremony.

‘We Will not only Rise Against Expectations – We Will Rise to Exceed Expectations’

After a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, sung by CSM student Abigail McDanal, the 10 a.m. ceremony for the School of Liberal Arts was filled with emotional speeches, the Early College graduation, the Faculty Excellence Award recognition and words of encouragement.

Jaqrai (Louis) Smith, pictured left, was the student speaker for the event, sharing that he was graduating with his General Education Transfer Certificate as an Early College student – two weeks before graduating from Westlake High School on May 29, and with a full year of free college credits.

He explained that he was inspired to pursue the goal of graduating from college without debt by his amazing mother, who is also graduating this month with her master’s in education, and that he’s been energized to look toward the future.

“By attending CSM, we graduates have shown that we will not only rise against expectations – we will rise to exceed expectations, and that we are all more than meets the eye,” he said. “I want to be active in my community and I want to start a nonprofit that helps break generational poverty for families by teaching children at an early age about financial literacy. And maybe even I’ll write a book about what I’ve learned from my experiences so that others might be inspired.”

Smith, who’s younger sister now also attends Early College, shared his deep gratitude for his professors, fellow students, and the opportunity to attend CSM. “As you take this knowledge with you into the world, I hope you remember my story. I want you to take this advice as well: when an opportunity knocks on your door, invite it in with open arms.”

During the 10 a.m. ceremony, Bedell also recognized Professor Shaneeza Kazim with the 2024 Faculty Excellence Award. Kazim is a professor of education, specializing in early childhood development.

“She has a passion for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) and structures her classroom according to the universal design for learning, always keeping the at-risk population in mind,” Bedell explained. “By modeling inclusivity, her students will have this mindset as they set-up their own classrooms.”

‘The Only Way to Go is Up and If I Can do This – so Can You’

After a moving rendition of the National Anthem sung by CSM student Favian Streat, the 1 p.m. ceremony for the graduates of the School of Professional and Technical Studies saw cybersecurity graduate Robert Katzberg III, pictured right, share his journey with his fellow graduates.

Katzberg, who works full time for the United States Army – Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, shared that the road that brought him to the College of Southern Maryland and to pursuing a higher education had been a long one.

“When I graduated from Leonardtown High School 15 years ago, I never pictured myself to be a college student,” he said. “I always had the thought in the back of my mind that attending college would be useful, but I never had the right mindset to go after it.

“I was intimidated coming back to school after being out of the classroom for such a long period of time,” admitted the 33-year-old student. “I was nervous going into my initial classes but kept my focus. And then after my first couple of classes, including an English class where I wrote papers for the first time since high school, I gained a lot of confidence because I learned that it if I put in the time – the work got easier and even fulfilling…  the more classes I took the more confidence I gained in my ability to do well and succeed in my education. With this confidence I gained doing so well in school, I began to gain confidence in other areas in life, including at my job.”

Katzberg said that each of his cyber security-focused classes taught him something he could use on an everyday basis at his own job. “I have gained imperative skills to support our military … and I can’t explain the sense of pride I feel that I am able to contribute to the success of the U.S. Army in this capacity,” he added.

“I am happy to share that now, my end goal is to obtain my master’s degree,” he shared. “The only way to go is up and if I can do this – so can you.”

‘Be Curious, Push Yourself, Follow Your Dreams” 

At the 4 p.m. School of Science and Health commencement ceremony, which also saw the announcement of the 2024 Distinguished Alumni Award, the National Anthem was sung by student David Poe and graduate Wendy Bollino, pictured below, gave advice to her fellow graduates. The proud 40-year-old wife, mother and new nurse thanked her daughter for inspiring her to pursue her dreams after a long break from college.

“I was told the college experience is what you make of it,” she said. “Well, 19-year-old Wendy did not make the most of it way back when. Some of our paths are straight lines. Not mine. I zigged and zagged, did some roller coaster style looptie loops and that weird thing where the roller coaster goes backward and makes your stomach turn all before, I was able to get to this point. I am here today to say that perseverance and resilience pays off.

“Following through with my oldest dream of becoming a nurse has changed me as a human being,” she continued. “I am better for having gone through this intense yet rewarding challenge. I am better for having met and learned alongside all of you.”

Bollino then encouraged her class to tell their story and inspire others.

“My advice is, be true to yourselves and continue to want to learn like it’s your first day, every day,” she shared. “Be curious, push yourselves, follow your dreams. Do not put a time limit on your education. It’s never too late to learn.”

Also, during the 4 p.m. ceremony, the Board of Trustee Chair Shawn Coates awarded Destiny Morgan of the CSM class of 2015, with the CSM Foundation’s 2024 Distinguished Alumni Award.

“Destiny is a true CSM Hawk Hero,” he said. “She’s always there for us, when needed, no matter the task,” he shared. “More recently, the IT business owner decided to pay it forward to other CSM students who may need financial assistance by offering her newly-established Kuinua Together scholarship. Destiny is also starting an initiative with CSM to help get students real world work experience along with their degrees. We are very excited about partnering with her in these student-centered efforts.”

Coates also lauded Morgan for continuing to serve in the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) in White Plains.

“CSM is enormously proud to have Destiny as an alum and a partner in providing a pathway for student achievement.”

A video of each commencement will be available for viewing on the college’s YouTube channel — https://www.youtube.com/user/CSMDTube. To view or download photographs from the ceremonies, please visit, https://csmphoto.zenfolio.com/. Photos will be available after May 15.