WYE MILLS — Through the sounds of cheering and a few tears, Chesapeake College graduated its class of 2018 on May 16. More than 280 degree candidates and more than 60 certificate candidates crowded into the Todd Performing Arts Center with friends and family looking on to celebrate their accomplishments.
A common theme that ran throughout the evening was the importance of community and being a part of something bigger than yourself. Chesapeake College Interim President Dr. Stuart Bounds reminded the students of this during his remarks. The evening’s festivities were the 50th commencement exercises at Chesapeake College.
“Graduates, this is your night. Without the love and patience and encouragement from family and friends that have gathered here to celebrate this occasion, your achievements would not be possible,” Bounds said.
In addition to conferring the diplomas, the 2018-2020 Distinguished Teaching Chair was announced. Amber McGinnis, assistant communications professor and director of the honors program, received this prestigious title and shared how her experiences growing up on the Eastern Shore prepared her to serve her community.
“Graduates, I urge you to remember the lessons you’ve learned here. College isn’t all about the assignments and the grades. It’s about succeeding in something that initially seems impossible,” McGinnis said. “Pushing yourself when you were beyond exhausted and showing up when that is the last thing you feel like doing. Try to be the GOAT — greatest of all time — in all you do. I feel fortunate to be working in the community that raised me.”
During his commencement remarks, University of Maryland Shore Regional Health President and CEO Ken Kozel spoke about the 20-year partnership Shore Regional Health and Chesapeake College have enjoyed. He said this journey they’ve taken together has produced some of the finest graduates in this college and industry leaders.
“Today there is one simple message I would like to share with you that I hope you take to heart. That is the importance of community, in our lives and in the world around us,” Kozel said. “Nearly every meeting I’ve attended since I started has reminded me about the importance of caring for each other under the context of one community. This is evident in healthcare and our world has dramatically changed. Today our success is measured on how we help create healthier communities together.”
He went on to encourage the graduates to excel at what they do and strive to do more. Living on the Eastern Shore has its own unique challenges, Kozel said. Spread over nearly 2,000 miles, the Eastern Shore’s population is only around 175,000, making life on the Shore less than ideal for some people, he said.
“So often, it takes a unique individual with family circumstances to make living on the Shore an attractive and lasting source for many people. But you are here,” Kozel said. “Most of you live on the Shore. Many of you were born and raised here and call this your home. You are the Eastern Shore. You know what it means to live here and many of you have already committed to stay here to work and raise a family, perhaps.”
But perhaps one of the most stirring speeches of the evening came from the John T. Harrison Award winner Sofiah Ali. The award is given each year to a student who has demonstrated excellence in academics, leadership and overall contribution to the college and community. Ali, the daughter of immigrants, is the 56th recipient of this prestigious award.
She spoke about the obstacles she’s had to overcome in her life. Ali admitted that she is an undocumented immigrant and almost let the fear of this take away her desire to go to college.
“After all these years, I have found the courage to stand before you all and share with you a struggle that has impacted every aspect of my life,” Ali said “I am one of the 12.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadow of the United States. I have decided to stand before you today and reveal this aspect to encourage you to confront your own obstacles and liberate yourself from whatever is limiting your success. I invite you all to come out of your shadows, whatever they may be with me.”
Ali shared her experience during high school when she was excelling in school but the thought of attending college seemed out of her reach due to her undocumented status. She said she started to question her worth as her dreams of attending college seemed out of reach.
“In order to prove to myself and those around me the misconceptions about undocumented immigrants, I had to work 100 times harder,” she said. “Nevertheless I persisted and found different routes to achieve my goal. I applied to Chesapeake and took advantage of every opportunity possible. I hope by sharing my story and show that I was able to release myself from my limitations — first generation American, low income and undocumented. We don’t have to conform to the restraints of our challenges. We are not defined by our limitations but by our potential.”