'Pay forward the support you received here'

  • UMES awards 426 degrees to the Class of 2019

    Friday, May 24, 2019
    Joshua Dacres, left, and Benyam Desta

    The University of Maryland Eastern Shore conferred 426 degrees at its spring 2019 graduation exercises May 24, a historically significant anniversary for the institution. 

    Sixty years ago to the day, the commencement speaker for the class of 1959 was the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 

    At this year's event, graduates heard from Dr. John B. King Jr., who was U.S. Secretary of Education during the final year of President Barack Obama's second term.  John King's grandmother, Estelle Stansberry was an 1894 alumna of the institution when it was known as Princess Anne Academy. 

    King challenged graduates “to pay forward the support you've received here” and to “stand against prejudice and hate in all their forms.” 

    Historically black institutions, King noted, “have been at the vanguard of civil rights advancements” and pointed to UMES as the place his grandmother got an opportunity to get an education that established a foundation for her family that followed in her footsteps. 

    “My great-grandfather grew up enslaved before the Civil War,” King told the audience.  “And three generations later, his great-grandson - the man standing before you - served in the Cabinet of the first African-American President of the United States.” 

    It was a timely message that resonated with the audience, including Joshua Dacres.  The English major from White Plains, N.Y will join the Teach for America program, where he'll likely be placed in a school that has difficulty finding teachers and students face a broad range of academic and personal challenges.

    It's a two-year commitment Dacres said he'll use to gauge his next career move, which he hopes will lead to starting a school for underprivileged and under-served students similar to one in Akron, Ohio underwritten by NBA star LeBron James. 

    “We'll see what the Lord has in store for me,” Dacres said.  “UMES has been a real blessing to me and put in a position where I know I'll be able to succeed.” 

    Alexa Brady of Berlin has designs on being a pediatric surgeon.  A first-generation college graduate, Brady worked three part-time jobs while enrolled in UMES' honors program, including her final semester as a scribe shadowing emergency room physicians at Peninsula Regional Medical Center. 

    Two 7 p.m.-to-7 a.m. weekday shifts this spring were followed by 9 a.m. classes. 

    “It was a long semester,” Brady said.  “But I see (graduating) as a stepping stone. It's big accomplishment. If I can do this, I can certainly do four more years (of graduate school). 

    Brady plans to take a year off traveling the country and visiting prospective medical schools to gauge which one is the best fit for a UMES alumna who graduated with highest honors in biology. 

    UMES' Richard A. Henson Honors Program had 30 students graduate, including, Trinity Mathis of Fort Washington, Md.  She spent the past two summers working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which paved the way for a fulltime job offer from the agency's legal office, where she'll put her criminal justice degree to work. 

    Mathis called graduating “bittersweet.  It seems like all my life I've been in school.  I've told myself this journey is over and now I have to embrace a new one.” 

    Mathis would someday like to add a graduate degree in political science with a specialization in computer science to become an intelligence analyst for a federal agency. 

    “With everything that's been in the news lately (about cyber-spying), it seems like we're going to need more people to protect us,” she said.  “I see myself as part of the solution.” 

    Keith Garner Jr. of Pikesville was a popular classmate; just check Social Media postings by UMES' class of 2019. 

    Garner's reputation as a photographer and videographer put his services in demand for keepsake images his classmates shared on their Social Media platforms. 

    Garner will become a partner in a start-up company in the Baltimore area doing video commercials for small businesses as well as weddings.  He also has his eye on applying for a fellowship that would allow him to travel the world for a year doing documentaries about the people he meets. 

    “I love traveling and being a global citizen,” Garner said.  “I want to do that through my work - traveling with families and small businesses abroad. I want to see the world, and be able to travel the world through my work” 

    Garner said he was “overwhelmed but blessed” by his time at UMES.  “I never envisioned coming to an HBCU, but I'm glad I did. I was missing my blessings right in front of me.” 

    Cambridge native Kavon Harris was among the inspirational stories in the class of 2019.  Harris is the oldest of six siblings and also first-generation college student who persevered to earn his Bachelor of Science degree in sociology despite various personal challenges, including homelessness. 

    Vernajh Pinder, a hospitality and tourism management major from Bermuda, delivered the student commentary. 

    “As we gather … to celebrate our last four years and remember our college experiences, let us ponder who we have become and who we have the potential to be,” Pinder said.  “Let us not be defined by the mistakes we've made but, the mountains we've moved.”

    UMES' School of Pharmacy and Health Professions conferred 49 Doctor of Pharmacy degrees.  The School of Graduate Studies awarded 39 master's degrees and 14 doctorates, including one to Steven Leonard, Peninsula Regional Medical Center's president, who completed the organizational leadership program. 

    Thomas Baxter, a businessman-philanthropist who operates 18 McDonald's restaurants on the lower Delmarva Peninsula, received an honorary degree of public service in recognition of his support for education initiatives in communities where he owns franchises.