Hats off to the Class of 2018

  • Friday, May 25, 2018
    Jazmine Hulett, above, and Jahmai Holland

    Creativity became a partner of unbridled joy at the 131st spring commencement exercises Friday, ushering in a new era at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. 

    The university's administration relaxed graduation-day rules and allowed honorees to decorate their mortar boards with customized expressions. 

    The sartorial headwear at England's royal wedding a week ago was no match for the flair atop graduates' hair at the Hytche Athletic Center. The class of 2018 rose to the occasion - literally and figuratively - by putting a distinctive stamp on its place in UMES history.

    Newly minted alumni affixed small floral arrangements or images expressing gratitude to their families. Some chose to highlight their course of study (pineapples for hospitality tourism management) or a motivational saying drawn from pop culture. Jazmine Hulett of Baltimore channeled her inner whimsy. 

    Hulett, who received a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling, tasked her talented friend, Talaia Warren (UMES 2017), to draw likenesses of five fictional female comic book characters on her cap. 

    “I'm a low-key superhero geek,” Hulett said sheepishly. “I figured I would be wearing a cape (i.e. a graduation gown), so why not? I gave her the idea and she ran with it.” 

    Jahmai Holland, an accounting major who delivered the student commentary on behalf of classmates, decorated her cap with miniature dollar bills and six words summarizing her next goal: “on my way to a CPA.” 

    University of Maryland Eastern Shore 131st Spring Commencement Special Honorees

    McKinley M. Hayes - presidential medal recipient
    James A. Polk Sr. - presidential medal recipient
    Dr. Thomas A. Siska - honorary degree recipient
    Dr. Carolyn B. Brooks - professor emerita

    From the stage, Holland, a Richard Henson Honors Program student who graduated magna cum laude, exhorted her classmates to “be proud of yourself. Know that you may not be where you want to be just yet, but give yourself credit for making progress and not being in the same position as you once were.” 


    Her rousing delivery and message energized the room, leaving featured commencement speaker Calvin G. Baker Jr. a bit hesitant to follow Holland to the podium. 

    Butler, a Baltimore utility company executive, nonetheless challenged the 418 graduates to be active alumni - he's chairman of his alma mater's governing board - and by doing so, “you become a living embodiment of what makes the University of Maryland Eastern Shore better.” 

    He also called on his audience to draw on the themes of “Hawkspitality” - Integrity, Commitment, Accountability, Respect and Excellence in their post-graduation lives. “You living your purpose allows others to live theirs,” he said. 

    Graduation season is about families celebrating, and at least two from the Lower Shore had a doubly good reason to enjoy UMES' 2018 commencement. 

    Wyntin Goodman of Parsonsburg, MD, and his mother, Felicia, both received their undergraduate degrees. Hers was in human ecology with a specialty in fashion merchandising while his was in environmental science with an emphasis on chemistry. 

    Felicia Goodman decorated her hat; her son didn't. He's already looking ahead to post-graduate work in Massachusetts with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

    Keisha Shreeves-Whittington of nearby Marion now holds three college degrees, the most recent a master's in rehabilitation counseling from UMES. A short time later, daughter Brikeisha received her bachelor's degree in kinesiology. 

    Brikeisha Whittington called her mother her “inspiration and role model. She's always been big on education. I'm glad I was able to share this special day with her.” 

    Shreeves-Whittington acknowledged jitters before the ceremony; “I'm actually overwhelmed,” she said. “I'm here more so for her. I look at it today as her celebration.”

    Then, there was buzz of a specific after-commencement celebration outside of Hytche that set the crowd into a happy frenzy. 

    Aaliyah Jones, an aviation management major from Baltimore, will remember graduation day as the day she also got engaged. 

    Fiancé Justin Jones (UMES 2016) greeted her outside the Hytche center with two tall relatives holding a banner that telegraphed the question he was about to ask. (She said yes.) 

    Aaliyah said she and Justin had talked informally about getting married and she told him she wanted to “look good” with “lots of people around” when it came time to propose. 

    Said Justin, with a twinkle in his eye and shrug: “Seemed like graduation was the perfect time.” 

    Bryan Michel of Bowie, MD, by way of Haiti, earned a general education degree with a specialization in engineering technology. He plans to be a secondary school teacher and is weighing several options. 

    “I want to be able to impart knowledge and make an impact on the lives of young students,” said Michel, who bears a striking resemblance to basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal. 

    Michel didn't have to look far at commencement to find a role model educator. 

    Richard Warren received his doctorate in education, his third degree from UMES, where as an undergraduate he played varsity tennis for three years. Earlier this spring, Warren, who teaches at Crisfield High School and Academy, was named Somerset County's Teacher of the Year. 

    “Today teaches me that through the power of faith, family and community, you can achieve things beyond your wildest dreams,” he said. 

    For others in the class of 2018, the journey in pursuit of dreams begins now.