University of Maryland Eastern Shore seniors who endured a revised, recalibrated and rebranded undergraduate experience under the pall of a persistent global pandemic completed that arduous journey today with a time-honored rite of passage – commencement.
A limited number of tickets were distributed, those who entered the Hytche Athletic Center had to confirm they were vaccinated and everyone was required to wear a mask. Outside, the unseasonably warm 67 degrees made the day feel more like spring graduation.
Graduates were joined by a handful of alumni from the class of 2020. President Heidi M. Anderson invited them to the Hytche Athletic Center to be recognized in person as well for their accomplishments that initially were celebrated a year ago in a recorded virtual ceremony.
Among the 179 students who completed their degree work this fall was Ciani C. Wells, an English major from Philadelphia with a 4.0 grade point average. Wells successfully auditioned to deliver the student commentary, another highlight on her resume that shows she earned her degree in 3½ years and has designs on going to law school next fall.
“We stand here transformed into accomplished and sophisticated young adults ready to face the world head on,” Wells assured her classmates.
“Today, we are more knowledgeable … we have more courage … we feel more confident,” she said. “Today, we are more certain of our passion … we have more experience under our belts … we are more comfortable with sharing our talents and our gifts.”
“Today,” she said, “we are more aware than ever of our individual greatness and our ability to succeed.”
Jordan L. Kelly of Bridgeton, N.J. also graduated a semester early, earning her Bachelor of Science degree in rehabilitation psychology with a minor in psychology. While at UMES, she played softball and tennis. After graduation, she plans to pursue special education citing her work experience with young children (toddlers) and the importance of that work.
“Being at UMES taught me to get out of my comfort zone and helped me to be more independent,” Kelly said. “It allowed me to have new experiences and be more open minded.
Kenny R. Davis Jr. earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering with honors.
Davis grew up in Parsonsburg, Md. just east of Salisbury, a small, tight-knit farming community. He’s the first in his immediate family to earn a college degree.
When not attending class or studying, Davis said he worked a series of jobs to put himself through school – sometimes putting in more than 20 hours a week.
He and two classmates, Landon Bickle and Fabian M. Wilson, spent the fall semester designing and building an underwater drone as a capstone project. The trio captured its performance in this three-minute video taken at a local swimming pool.
Davis had internships the past three summers at Wallops, including one where he was entrusted with ensuring flight hardware was ready for launch – in other words, he said he was the last person to “tighten some bolts before a payload flew into space on an Atlas 5 rocket.”
When Tina Ko of Cockeysville, Md. walked across the Hytche center stage to receive her aviation science degree (specialization – management), she fulfilled a dream inspired by her uncle – and mentor.
Ko immigrated to this country from Korea at age 12 and credits her uncle – a professional pilot – with instilled in her that she should do what she dreamed of doing.
She enrolled in UMES in 2019 as a transfer student uncertain if she had what was needed to earn a bachelor’s degree. She credits UMES’ aviation science faculty – singling out Dr. Willie Brown – for the hands-on support that helped her reach her goal.
Ko worked in a student fellowship capacity for NASA at the Wallops Flight Facility, where she participated in environmental research into challenges confronting the ozone, the earth’s protective layer of atmosphere.
She has accepted a job offer from Korean Airlines and will be moving to Atlanta in early 2022.
Jordan White of Baltimore received his degree in exercise science with a specialization in clinical studies. The Richard A. Henson Honors program participant is hoping that experience might translate into work in the sports medicine field.
White said he was surprised by how much he came to appreciate UMES in rural Somerset County.
“I couldn’t see myself carrying out my undergrad career anywhere else,” he said. “I’ve built life-long relationships here and I have endless memories wild and funny stories that lie on this campus.
“This was the driving force that kept me here,” White said, adding “I learned college is what you make it.”
Samantha Hernandez, a 2020 graduate with honors in exercise science, was among alumni who took Dr. Anderson up on the invitation to return for an in-person ceremony.
“I felt like there was some missing (a year ago) after working so hard, so this was a way to make up for that,” said Hernandez, who took a day off as a technician in an orthopedic surgeon’s practice. She says she’s hoping to go to medical school.
Spring 2020 classmate Aubree Savoy, a criminal justice major, also got time off from her job as classification officer with the Baltimore County Department of Corrections to participate in graduation.
“I decided to come because my family could get that moment, and I could get that moment myself,” Savoy said.
Princess Anne community leader Garland Hayward, a 1975 alumnus and long-serving town commissioner, received an honorary degree.