UMES Class of 2015 = perseverance

  • Friday, May 15, 2015

    Bria & Donyelle CottinghamPRINCESS ANNE, MD- (May 15, 2015) - Bria Cottingham of Crisfield was the second member of her family to cross the University of Maryland Eastern Shore's graduation stage at today's 128th spring commencement.

    The 21-year-old watched proudly from her seat, surrounded by classmates, as her mother received a master's degree in school counseling. It was Donyelle Cottingham's second UMES degree; she earned a special education degree in 1998 and currently teaches at East Salisbury Elementary School.

    "I had a friend tell me I needed to go back," said Donyelle, 39. "As a single mom with two children and working full-time, it was a struggle."

    That struggle didn't go unnoticed by Bria, who earned a rehabilitation psychology degree, graduating with honors.

    "I'm really proud of her," Bria said. "It's a surreal experience to be able to graduate together."

    The Cottinghams' story embodies the theme of the commencement address: perseverance.

    Dr. Gregory Parham, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's assistant secretary, told the Class of 2015 of the many personal and professional failures Abraham Lincoln experienced before he won the presidency in 1860.

    "Persevere, you must," said Parham, adding that life's rewards "come to those who endure to the very end."

    A few rows from the Cottinghams was Danielle Lynn Emich of Perry Hall, a Baltimore suburb. She studied hospitality tourism management at the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville, where UMES also offers the degree program.

    Danielle EmichThe 39-year-old mother of four commuted 75 minutes each way for two years to earn her bachelor's degree with honors as a transfer student with an associate's degree from Anne Arundel Community college.

    "It's a huge deal for me," Emich said. "I wanted to show my kids no matter how old you are, you can accomplish what you want."

    "This is really an emotional moment for me," she said.

    Emich's perseverance and her UMES degree are paying off; she has a job waiting with Crowne Plaza in Rockville, where she will be a sales coordinator.

    President Juliette B. Bell, who presided over the two-hour ceremony that saw UMES award 467 degrees, including 379 to undergraduates, echoed Parham's message: "Perseverance is really the key to success."

    Parham's address was preceded by the traditional student commentary, delivered this year by Tawfeek Matuq, a 27-year-old Jordanian who earned a mechanical engineering degree. 

    Like Emich, whose four children watched her receive her degree, Matuq's seven-year-old son, Brydan, was in the audience.

    "I love you son," Matuq said. "I want to make you as proud as you make me."

    Graduation day is about pride personified. Before, during and after the ceremony, beaming relatives and friends posed for and shot photos of the newly minted UMES alumni. For some, it was double the pleasure.