UMES graduate Sophia Cruzado gives the student commentary during the 26th Winter Commencement.

It was a roller coaster of emotions for Sophia Cruzado on Saturday morning.

For Cruzado, a Beltsville, Maryland native, it was an exciting time for her and her family as the first-generation college student at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore was receiving her bachelor’s degree in biology.

But there was also a bit of nerves as she was selected to give the student commentary for the 26th winter commencement ceremony. But she pushed through those nerves with a statement that epitomized the journey she and her peers took to arrive at today’s commencement.

“We found ourselves facing obstacles, including a global pandemic but still found a way for us to all be gathered here, not just as individuals, but as a collective force of resilience and dedication pursuing our dreams against all odds that are constantly placed upon us,” she said. “We are a family that took a chance, as a union, to dream beyond the limitations set.”

Ebony Jenkins

Cruzado was one of 163 students awarded bachelor, master’s, and doctoral degrees from UMES at the William P. Hytche Athletic Center on Saturday.

Ebony Jenkins of Snow Hill completed her journey of being a triple graduate from the institution as she received her doctorate in food and agricultural science. Jenkins, whose research on edible insects was featured on the PBS series “NOVA”, said her decision to study insects as a food source was a personal one.

“My son suffers from asthma and allergies,” she said. “So, when I found out that honey, specifically locally sourced honey, could combat asthma and allergies, I knew I had to cast my fears aside in order to push forward and work with insects.

Abdul-Hakeem Kargbo

Jenkins, who plans to create her own business focusing on insects as a renewable food source, said while her goal wasn’t what she initially envisioned, she is glad she followed this path.

“If an opportunity is given to you, try it,” she said. “You never know if you might like it. Sometimes, you might end up liking it better than your original plan.”

Following in the footsteps of his brother Hamza, who graduated in 2021, Abdul-Hakeem wanted to emulate his parents — who are nurses — in helping others. He’s also been a presence in both the “Thunderin’ Hawks” pep band, and the gospel choir, often leading the groups in the place of director, Stephen Pender.

For Abdul-Hakeem Kargbo of Clinton, Maryland, who received his bachelor of science in rehabilitation psychology, commencement was a bittersweet moment.

“It makes me feel appreciated that he would trust me to have this type of responsibility for something of this magnitude,” said Kargbo, who plans to return to UMES in the spring to pursue his master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. “For him to be able to trust me has helped me grow as a person. It also allowed me to implement what I’ve learned from this experience in my everyday life, even my schoolwork and responsibility.”

Dawrae Gibbons

Dawrae Gibbons of Salisbury worked in law enforcement before deciding to major in English at UMES.

Originally from Bermuda, Gibbons made an impact in the Department of English and Modern Languages, becoming a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and Sigma Tau Delta, the English Honor Society, and working in UMES’s writing center.

“My biggest accomplishment was proving to myself that I could do this,” said Gibbons, who wants to teach college-level English one day. “I’m an international student and not your typical student because I decided to come back to school later in life. I wasn’t sure if I would get good grades or be able to adapt to learning, but for almost every semester except one, I’ve received distinctions for English.”

We close by returning to Cruzado, who incorporated Spanish into her speech to honor her family and other Spanish speakers in the audience.  She closed her oration with the message that having faith in oneself can bring the desired result.

“Today we are not just graduates, we are also dreamers who took a chance and found a home away from home that took a chance on us,” she said. “Today, we are proof that dreams do come true, and that hard work pays off.”

1959 UMES graduate Allen J, Singleton received an honorary doctor of humane letters during the 26th Winter Commencement, on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023

Allen J. Singleton, a 1959 alumnus, also received an honorary doctoral degree.

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