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‘Be strong. Be hopeful. Be brave.’

  • UMES’ class of 2020 celebrated with a virtual commencement tribute

    Friday, May 15, 2020
    Dr. Anderson conferred 384 degrees "virtually"

    The University of Maryland Eastern Shore conferred 384 degrees today in a way unlike any previous year since the institution opened its doors in 1886. 

    A graduation event billed as a “commencement celebration” took place - not by gathering on campus but instead around computer and cellphone screens - connected “virtually.” 

    It was not by design, but by necessity. 

    A “novel coronavirus” -- dubbed COVID-19 for short -- swept across the globe with such ferocity it brought life to a standstill in the spring of 2020. 

    UMES was not immune.

    During mid-March's spring break, university leaders found themselves compelled to comply with governmental directives and executive orders to halt in-person instruction for the remaining eight weeks of the semester. 

    Students did not return to campus and classes were delivered via the Internet, which also became the alternative method of hosting a rite of passage. UMES was among thousands of institutions across the country that opted to recognize the class of 2020 that way. 

    “The global pandemic has clearly changed how we are all living our lives,” UMES President Heidi M. Anderson said in remarks near the end of a 38-minute broadcast

    “While it is certainly sad that we cannot be in the gym for our usual ceremony, we cannot hug one another and we cannot laugh and sing the alma mater together - we  do not want to lose sight that graduation is a tremendous milestone and worth pausing to celebrate even in these circumstances.”

    The streaming production relied on still images of campus life and three dozen video clips featuring degree candidates expressing their collective joy of reaching a goal while offering a hint of ambivalence about what lies. 

    It was a theme Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, in recorded marks, touched on as well. 

    “In life,” Hogan said, “there are going to be things you can plan for and work toward, and there will be some challenges that you will see coming but there also going to be things that take you completely by surprise.” 

    “Things … will hit you from out of nowhere … that will test your strength, your will and your character,” Hogan said. “It's during those times of adversity and uncertainty that it's more important than ever to remember to stay true to who you are, keep people around you who make you a better person and keep you grounded. And always stay positive.” 

    Newly minted alumni who submitted video messages also hewed to that perspective. 

    “We did it,” Aubree Savoy said. “We may not be together right now. However, please take note. None of your hard work has gone unnoticed. Remember: this too shall pass. Don't be afraid of tomorrow.” 

    Regina Martin reminded classmates that “we fought our way to finish school, and now we're fighting to get through this pandemic. Let's always keep this fighting spirit wherever we go.” 

    Alicia Oliver expressed pride "to be part of such a unique class. As challenges face us, just know we know how to overcome them as a student body and as a community.  I pray that everyone stays well and take the memories that we have curated for a lifetime.” 

    Several professors - Dr. Lomboso Khoza, Dr. Richard Warren, Dr. Gurdeep Hura - also offered congratulations via video, as did the Department of Rehabilitation faculty in a multi-lingual clip that included sign language instructor Jonathan Blackmon using hand gestures as he would on stage at the Hytche center under normal circumstances.

    The list of spring 2020 University of Maryland Eastern Shore graduates.

    Among those earning bachelor's degrees were at least two sets of twins; DaJaun and DaVaun Patillo of Baltimore, and Allison and LeAnn Gingrich of Landisburg, Pa. The Gingrich sisters played softball at UMES, so being unable to finish collegiate careers as athletes was an added disappointment. 

    “I am still extremely grateful for this experience,” said Allison Gingrich, a special education major. “COVID-19 took a lot away from me, including my senior season as well as my internship, but I believe that there is good in everything and every situation.” 

    LeAnn Gingrich, a human ecology-dietetics major, said she felt “fortunate to play one last game as a Hawk” while expressed optimism “this time will bring forth more good than bad.  I will cherish the time as a student athlete forever, and I have that to thank for building my character into the person I am today.” 

    DaVaun Patillo, who studied general agriculture, said when he reflects on his undergraduate experience “the one thing that stands out to me is friendships and the relationships you make with people and where they can get you, UMES was gave us a good mix of diversity.” 

    DaJaun Patillo, a rehabilitation psychology major, said “being away from campus and not being able to actually complete our finally year on campus with friends (was hugely disappointing) but … I guess it was for the best. We just hope everyone stays safe and well on their future journeys and plans whatever (they) may be.” 

    The Patillo brothers hope to return to UMES in the fall to enter graduate school. 

    Senior class President Chammel Bowrin thanked UMES “for promoting us into the young adults we are today … and for all the memories that we shared on campus and made on campus. We will never, ever forget them.” 

    “Although this is not how we planned our commencement ceremony,” Bowrin said, “we still accomplished this huge milestone.” 

    Anderson, who became the university's 16th leader in September 2018 and enjoys engaging with students, encouraged her far-away charges to draw on the positives of being a college graduate - and a UMES alumnus. 

    “Our moment is now,” she said. “Our time is still here. If anything, perhaps our senses of mission and purpose have deepened and strengthened. 

    “Our commitments to each other can only be deeper. Our desires to help those around us can only grow and our awareness of how to serve can only be clearer as we start over to build our next best selves. 

    “Today we celebrate the courageous you, the you that will use uncertainty and creativity to your advantage to start something new. 

    “We celebrate the you who will be a role model in discovering and engaging others in the arts, education, technology, agriculture, engineering, business and the health professions to foster greatness among those who you serve and whose lives you influence, and to shape the future by giving forward. 

    “Enjoy what you have become. Promise yourself that you will not let an opportunity to make a difference, to demonstrate excellence to be a Hawk with meaning to pass you buy. 

    “Be strong. Be hopeful. Be brave. 

    “And remember, you are a Hawk -- you are never alone no matter where you are.” 


    Click HERE to see the commencement celebration video featuring the UMES' class of 2020