Peggy Naleppa United Way Stephen Reilly Lisa Heath Matthew Vance Gabriella Roncal
SALISBURY, MD---Salisbury University celebrates a day of firsts during its 84th year Spring Commencement on Friday, May 21, at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center as more than 2,000 students receive their diplomas.
A 6 p.m. ceremony honors winter 2009 graduates, whose original commencement was canceled last December following the declaration of a state of emergency throughout Maryland due to a mid-Atlantic blizzard.
This year also celebrates the first graduates of SU’s off-site partnership program in respiratory therapy at the Universities at Shady Grove in Montgomery County, MD. They are part of SU’s largest graduating class to date, with 1,477 students. (This does not include the 546 students who earned their degrees in winter 2009.)
During the morning ceremony, SU President Janet Dudley-Eshbach makes a special presentation to this year’s President’s Distinguished Community Leadership Award honorees. The individual recipient is Peggy Naleppa, president and CEO of Peninsula Regional Medical Center. The organization being honored is the United Way of the Lower Eastern Shore.
At the afternoon ceremony, the SU Alumni Association presents its Young Alumni Achievement Award to Stephen Reilly (B.A. communication arts, ’96), founder of Global Experiences, Inc. of Annapolis. Through his business, Reilly, who has lived on four continents, helps more than 500 college students and graduates each year find internships, practical work experience and English teaching programs abroad.
“I have been fortunate to see and do many exciting things since graduating [from SU] thanks in large measure to the doors that Salisbury and my education opened for me,” he said.
Lisa Heath, a graduate of the SU elementary education cohort program at the Eastern Shore Higher Education Center at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, MD, is the speaker for the morning ceremony. The mother of five, ages 5-18, said she was able to return to college and pursue her dream of earning a degree specifically because of the cohort program, which allowed her to attend classes close to her home in Chester, MD. She called the experience “life changing.”
“I would not have been able to finish school without this program,” she said, adding that the class, ranging in age from 21-45, “formed a bond. We’re our own biggest supporters. We rally around each other.”
Taking a cue from her children, she used the Miley Cyrus song “The Climb,” about life’s progression, as inspiration for her speech, encouraging her fellow graduates to “find joy in the journey.”
Afternoon speaker Matthew Vance of Salisbury did just that during his time at SU. The non-traditional student admits he was not the greatest scholar in high school, but learning to be a father and struggling to find what he wanted to do with his life gave him the confidence he needed to go back to school at age 30.
“I always knew I wanted to go back, but I didn’t know what to pursue,” he said. Then one day, inspiration struck. While working as a loan officer at a bank, he took on some additional duties in marketing, prompting him to consider a career in graphic design. He moved back in with his parents and worked jobs in retail and as a handyman to earn the degree he hopes will make that dream come true.
While at SU, he also participated in extra-curricular activities, including intramural football, with students less than two-thirds his age. Though he recognized he “did not have quite the same spring in my step anymore,” college was an enjoyable experience—one he may continue in the future. Armed with a new bachelor’s degree, the one-time C student is now considering pursuing an M.F.A.
Gabriela Roncal is the evening speaker. When emigrating from her native Peru to the United States, she knew leaving friends and much of her family behind would be hard, but the rewards—especially in education—would be great. She found exactly what she was looking for at SU.
Roncal came to the United States in 2006 to be with her parents, who had moved to the country three years earlier. Higher education in the U.S.—and at SU in particular—is different than its counterpart in Peru, she said. Faculty are more approachable here, and the education process is more guided. “Classes are like conversations” instead of one-sided lectures, she said.
One of her most memorable experiences at SU was with the Perdue School’s Business, Economic and Community Outreach Network (BEACON). She served as BEACON’s practice manager, overseeing research assistants and assisting with programs such as Bienvenidos a Delmarva, an outreach program for the peninsula’s Hispanic population.
Among spring 2010 undergraduates, 1,311 students receive the Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts. Some 166 receive master’s degrees.
Among fall 2009 undergraduates, 469 students receive the Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts. Some 77 receive master’s degrees.
Admission to Commencement is by ticket only. A reception at the Civic Center follows each ceremony. For more information call 410-543-6030 or visit the SU Web site at www.salisbury.edu.