'Remembering how far you have come'

  • UMES holds 22nd winter commencement

    Friday, December 14, 2018
    Similoluwa, Busola & Modupeola Sule

    Graduation day at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore began shrouded in fog, much the way some degree candidates surely must have felt their first day of college - some just 3½ years ago. 

    By midday, 270 newly minted graduates emerged from the university's 22nd winter commencement exercises to find the fog had lifted and bright futures lie ahead. 

    The latter was among the messages Dr. Richard Warren Jr., the 2018-19 Maryland state Teacher of the Year, delivered to an audience of some 3,000 that sat raptly as he spoke about how education turned his life around. 

    Warren, who earned three degrees from UMES, including a doctorate this past May, described a hardscrabble upbringing of a “move-around” kid with divorced parents who lost a close friend to gun violence, but was rescued by a caring teacher. 

    “Young man,” Warren recalled that teacher telling him, “I refuse to let you live below your potential.” 

    When the time came to head off to college, Warren said “UMES was my second chance at life.” 

    He cautioned graduates to be prepared for ups and downs. 

    “Don't ever give up,” he said. “The world needs you.” 

    Richard M. Gordon of Princess Anne didn't give up. At 55, he earned a bachelor's degree in English.  Gordon's parents, both 74, his wife and three of his four children were on hand at the William P. Hytche Athletic Center to see him walk across stage - a big smile beaming across his face. 

    “I had a terrific experience here,” Gordon said. “The professors are fantastic. They go out of their way to help you succeed.”

    Richard M. Gordon

    Gordon graduated with highest honors - summa cum laude - as did Jaelyn M. Shade of Upper Marlboro, who completed his degree in criminal justice in 3½ years with a 3.9 grade point average. 

    “I just worked hard,” Shade said, “stayed focused, and got all my work done. It's a huge accomplishment. I never thought I would be graduating from college, let alone in 3½ years.” 

    Shade, who has a job waiting with the National Guard, had something in common with Eden Enjoh Ndjami, the winner of an audition to deliver UMES' traditional student commentary. She also completed work in 3½ years on a biology degree and graduated with honors. 

    “May you never forget your story,” Ndjami said, “because it is with that story that you navigate through life - taking one step at a time, looking forward but always remembering how far you have come.” 

    Listening carefully in the audience was Busola Sule, a fellow biology major who said her “dearest friend” Ndjami “motivates me to be a better person.” 

    Sule also found motivation in siblings Similoluwa, who graduated from UMES with a human ecology degree this past spring and Modupeola, a 2016 UMES alumna also with biology degree. 

    The two sisters surprised Sule two weeks ago by showing up unannounced for a pre-graduation “photo shoot” that many degree candidates like to stage to share on their social media platforms. 

    “It meant so much to me that they would come and share that moment with me,” Sule said. “Everybody who saw (the pictures) liked them. I think they like the bond we have.” 

    Then there is Neus Quiñonero, who 2½ years ago left Valencia, Spain to enroll at UMES and compete as a long-distance runner. On the eve of her graduation, she shared thoughts on social media about what she had accomplished. 

    “People told me I was crazy to leave my country and move to another continent without being fluent in English - and to complete a degree as a student-athlete,” she tweeted. “Now, (I'm) a sociologist, graduating with honors and a five-time All-MEAC team (honoree). I guess I really was CRAZY.” 

    “This is a really big step in my life,” she said at graduation rehearsal. “I always wanted to live the life of an American college student. That was my dream.” 

    Daminique Vargas didn't travel as far as Quiñonero; she grew up in Queens, N.Y. but also was looking for a dramatic change in scenery to earn her degree in English. UMES offered her admission at a college fair, so she opted to come south, where she also worked as the men's basketball team student manager for four years. 

    “I'm in shock,” Vargas said before the ceremony. “It took a lot for me to be here.” 

    Vargas, who will work for Def Jam Recordings as a social media marketer, is the first person in her immediate family to earn a college degree and insists she won't be the last. Two younger siblings “don't have a choice” about whether to follow in her footsteps, she said.

    Lisa Thomas, an administrative assistant in UMES' Career & Professional Development Center, earned a master's in counselor education.

    "Graduation means the world to me," Thomas said.  "Dreams really do come true.  Despite setbacks, obstacles, or anything that may stand in your way, you can achieve any goal that you set for yourself. I'm a living witness."

    Warren, the commencement speaker, reminded members of the class of 2018 about the importance and value of their UMES experience inside the classroom and out. 

    “Be the person you needed when you were growing up,” he advised fellow alumni. “You are the answer to the problem.”