Resilient is the word student speaker Katelyn Kluh of La Plata chose to describe herself and her peers in the College of Southern Maryland’s graduating class of 2020.
“I think that if there is one trait that can best describe our CSM Class of 2020, it is resiliency,” Kluh said during the college’s first-ever virtual commencement ceremony Friday morning. “We have had to adjust to the new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and adopt the new mindset and practice of social distancing.”
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of CSM’s campuses in March and the cancellation of its in-person commencement as state officials urged people to stay home and not congregate in groups to slow the spread of the virus.
“Many of us have been forced into a new mode of learning as classes went online for the remainder of the semester,” Kluh continued. “We have been called on to be flexible, to be strong, to be understanding, and it hasn’t been easy. There have been good days and bad days, days of hope and days of darkness, but I think what has truly saved us is our ability to stay connected. We can text, call, Facetime, Zoom — we have all of this technology at our fingertips that allows us to maintain our relationships and keep connections with others strong.”
The use of technology to keep connected was on display Friday morning as CSM held a social media watch party on Facebook to celebrate its 61st Spring Commencement Ceremony, with pre-recorded addresses from President Maureen Murphy, Kluh, Vice President of Academic Affairs Eileen Abel and Faculty Senate President Sarah Merranko were aired, along with a video montage of faculty saluting the Class of 2020 and a photo montage of the graduates were aired.
Murphy thanked everyone for attending the online commencement, “to celebrate the amazing achievements of our candidates for graduation and for the first time in our history doing so in a virtual commencement ceremony.”
According to a news release from the college, the virtual ceremony drew more than 3,000 viewers, more than twice the number of attendees, including students, the college has had for its in-person commencements.
The virtual commencement opened with a performance of the national anthem by Grace Knudson.
During the Facebook watch party, Facebook users left nearly 750 comments and clicked “like,” “love” and “hug” more than 300 times, according to the release.
By noon, more than 30,000 people had interacted with CSM’s 2020 spring commencement webpage, at www.csmd.edu/csmgrad2020, according to the release.
Murphy said there were 470 candidates for degrees and certificates, and 462 associate degrees and 214 certificates were awarded, with many students, such as Kluh, earning multiple degrees.
Murphy said that 62% of the graduating class was female, and the oldest graduating student was 68 years old, while the youngest was 17.
“This class is extraordinary, and what these students have done in the last three months since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived has demonstrated with unequivocal force what it means to persevere,” Murphy said.
Kluh, a two-sport, student athlete, earned All-Academic First Team honors for achieving a 4.0 grade point average in her freshman year. A Greater Waldorf Jaycees Scholarship recipient, she played middle hitter for the CSM Hawks volleyball team in the fall and a center on the CSM women’s basketball team in the winter. Kluh was one of 1,552 NJCAA student athletes in the nation to make the All-Academic First Team by maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
Kluh said that, as demonstrated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, plans and circumstances can change in an instant.
“It is often our ability to adapt to change, our resiliency, that defines us,” Kluh said. “A resilient mindset is one of strength and self awareness.”
Kluh urged her fellow graduates to live in the moment and not take anything for granted.
“Though the future may be uncertain at this time, embrace the present and know that you’ve worked hard to be where you are today,” Kluh said.
Abel noted that this was CSM’s first-ever virtual commencement, “and while we will miss the in-person celebration, our congratulations are no less sincere for being virtual.”
“Despite the challenge of shifting gears and managing a whole new way of living over the last two months, you have done it, and I suspect you’ve learned a few things along the way,” she said.
Abel spoke of the black-capped chickadee, “among the cutest and chattiest of songbirds,” that stores caches of food to get it through lean times, and remembers where all of its caches are.
“Some of us can’t remember where we put our keys in the morning, but the one-half ounce chickadee can remember 100,000 food caches,” Abel said.
She said that in lean times, the chickadees’ hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory, grows. Chickadees kept in captivity do not experience this growth, and have difficulties with memory if released into the wild.
“If the chickadee — really no bigger than a thumb — can remember 100,000 hiding places for its food and can grow its brain as a consequence in one season, just imagine what you can do,” Abel said. “So be like the chickadee; use every opportunity to grow your brains — your survival will depend on it — and never, never stop learning.”
Sarah E. Merranko, CSM professor in the Division of English, Communications and Languages and president of the CSM Faculty Senate, continued the theme of lifelong learning.
“There is a saying, ‘If you’re not growing, then you are dying.’ I would continue that thought by saying, ‘If you’re not learning, then you’re not really living,’” Merranko said.
“Now that you’re graduating from CSM, some of you might be finished with your structured classroom learning. Others of you may continue by going on to pursue four-year degrees and perhaps beyond,” Merranko continued. “But for all of you, the learning that you seek out on your own beyond the classroom and throughout your life will be the most important work you ever do for yourselves.”
Murphy said that commencement is about new beginnings, and that new beginnings are always daunting, particularly in these uncertain times.
“If the way that all of you, the 2020 candidates for graduation, have handled yourselves is any indication, our world is in good hands: your amazing, resilient and powerful hands,” Murphy said.
To view a full list of graduates, visit news.csmd.edu/all-news/csm-announces-2020-spring-commencement-candidates-for-graduation/.
To view the CSM 2020 Spring Commencement Watch Party, visit www.facebook.com/CollegeofSouthernMaryland/videos/1023769371354315/?type=3&comment_id=10157414516840794&notif_id=1590764389641172&notif_t=feedback_reaction_generic.
To view individual photos, hear all of the commencement speeches in their entirety, read well wishes and learn more about the CSM 2020 Spring Commencement, visit csmd.edu/graduation.