The University of Maryland Eastern Shore held its spring 2022 commencement exercises today, awarding bachelor, master’s and doctorate degrees to 292 newly minted alumni.

Princess Sarah A. Bentil of Laurel, Md. delivered the student commentary on behalf of the class of 2022.

Bentil paid tribute to her mother, whom she said overcame a series of personal setbacks after her family settled in America, and became her role model for perseverance.

“Each of us has a purpose and a calling,” said Bentil, who was Miss UMES 2021-22. “Never stop until you find and live them.”

“As you go into the world, go with confidence. Your experiences here … have more than prepared you to excel at every aspect of your life,” she said. “Go out into the world knowing that you are worthy – and worth it! Your name is in high places where your feet have yet to land.”

Bentil, a member of the Richard A. Henson Honors program, has a post-graduate internship lined up this summer to do field-marketing for engineers with Oracle Corp., the Austin, Texas-based computer software giant.

Sixty-six graduated with honors, including eight student-athletes.

One of those was aviation science major Leul Fekadu of Silver Spring, who called graduation day “a big milestone.” Fekadu emigrated as a child from Ethiopia with his parents, whom he said had little understanding of the nuances of how to apply for admission to an American college.

“This is also a commencement for them,” Fekadu said, “and their hard work.”

Fekadu, also a Henson honors program student, has accumulated 300+ hours of flight time as a licensed pilot and will transition to working as a UMES flight instructor, which will enable him to build his experience resume to reach his career goal; commercial airline pilot.

Alyssa Blair Reese was the lone Crisfield native to receive a degree and will be following in the footsteps of her older sister into the pharmacy profession.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Reese, 29. “It’s meant too much to me to be accepted at UMES so I can be in a position to fill the gap for the underserved population when it comes to health care.”

Reese moves on to Richmond for a post-graduate residency program with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs before embarking on a career as pharmacist. She said she’s hopeful of returning to work on the Eastern Shore a year from now.

Anjanique LaFontant of White Plains, Md., spent her final semester at UMES as a student-teacher at nearby Somerset Intermediate School, where she taught regular-content math and language arts as well as worked with special education students, her specialization.

“I wanted to come to an HBCU,” LaFontant said. “UMES surrounded me at the right time and was there through every step, every phase.”

One of LaFontant’s parents is an educator, so “it was in my blood. I knew it was in my heart.” Her high school had a child care center, where she encountered special needs children and settled on that specialty as her major.

“Anyone who’s trying to be a special education teacher, it is not for the weak,” she said. “If you’re serious about it, (the university) will help you every step of the way.”

Amal Suleiman Adamu, who came to UMES from Nigeria at 16 to study, finished her undergraduate studies in biology in three years and graduated with highest honors. She also found time to work as a peer tutor.

“It’s been a ride,” Adamu said. “I really appreciate all my professors here at UMES. I had professors who made me feel I could achievement.”

“I am happy and still have so much more to accomplish,” the pre-med major said. “This is a stepping stone and there’s more work to done.”

Elspeth A. Schalk of Princess Anne has been accepted by the Trinity School of Medicine in St. Vincent, the Grenadines, where she’ll take the next step toward following in her father’s footsteps as an anesthesiologist.

After accumulating college credit at other institutions – and frustrated by losing some that did not transfer – Schalk nailed a perfect 4.0 grade point average in her two years as a biology major at UMES.  While COVID protocols cut class size, Schalk attended “in-person lectures … the whole time. I needed that structure.”

Schalk is prepared for the medical school grind; she held down jobs that often required 40 hours a week, including as an anesthesia technician at a local animal hospital.

“I finally got to where I never thought I’d be in life,” said Schalk, 29. “It was a very long road. I’ve gotten past thinking I didn’t deserve to be here.”

Christian A. Ferguson of Lanham, Md. is “a phenomenal person,” according to English department faculty member Terry Kundell. “He is creative, fun and a genuinely kind person.”

Ferguson, an English major and Henson honors program member, wants to be a writer and filmmaker. He directed a stage production as a freshman and a year ago wrote and directed, “Soul Searching,” a well-received one-man play that explored “systematic racism in the ‘70s of south side Chicago.”

“It’s saddening to leave a place that has provided me with great opportunity and creative freedom,” Ferguson said. “Yet, I’m excited to strive for success through all I have learned and experience gained.”

Ferguson’s goal is earning a master’s degree and major in film where he can also be graduate teaching assistant – ideally at Howard University.

Arielle M. Wickstrom of Mount Airey, Md., will relocate to Sarasota County, Fla. to spearhead design of a new engineering technology curriculum in the school system there. She is well prepared for the rigors; she persevered through the pandemic that took the life of her father, casting her into the role, at age 22, of caretaker of three younger siblings.

Her late father was in the construction business, and Wickstrom tagged along as a child to job sites. In high school, she helped build a “tiny house” and saw technology and engineering education as a career fit.

“I’m in love with the path that I choose,” she said. “Teaching kids about it is more fun. You can see the light bulbs go off.”

Wickstrom credits faculty member Thomas Loveland, coordinator of UMES’ satellite program in technology and engineering education in Baltimore, with instilling in her the confidence she could earn a degree.

“I had no financial support,” she said. “I worked to get as many scholarships as I could. I worked in retail. I don’t think I would have gotten that recognition without his approval.”

Wickstrom’s next oldest sibling will be a college freshman this fall and her two other siblings will live with a relative to finish high school.

Samantha Power, who has served as a senior policymaker during the Obama administration and currently for President Joe Biden, was the commencement speaker.

Power is the second winner of Pulitzer Prize, print journalism’s highest honor, in the past seven years to give UMES’ graduation-day speech. Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. accepted a last-minute invitation to handle the duties in December 2017.

Known internationally as a champion of human rights, Power challenged graduates to take a stand against those who might seek to take theirs away.

“At UMES, you learned that the very nature of rights is that they should never be questioned, they should never be threatened, they should never be taken away,” Power said. “They belong to you, to me, to everyone. And yet we know the real world doesn’t often respect these principles the way that it should.”

“When you leave this campus, you’ll find a world desperate for your talent, for your fire, for your resilience, and for the perspective you’ve gained here,” she said.

Actress Starletta DuPois, who has performed on stage, in film and on television, was awarded an honorary degree, joining her 1968 Maryland State College classmate Art Shell, who received one in 2007.

Hotelier Ben Seidel, founder, president and CEO of Maryland-based Real Hospitality Group, and his wife, Alma, the company’s human resources vice president, also received honorary degrees.

And Dr. Bradley Stevens, who taught at UMES from 2009 until 2021, was awarded the honorary title of ‘professor emeritus’ in recognition of his distinguished career as a marine and environmental science educator.

In a message to students “who are the first in their family to graduate, I would like you to know that education will make all the difference in your lives. My great-grandparents did not complete high school, but my grandfather Stevens acquired a Doctor of Divinity and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Michigan.”

“The value of your education,” he said, “will be passed on to your children and to theirs for many generations.”

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