Dr. Steven E. Leonard Addresses Graduates

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Wor-Wic Community College commencement ceremonies were held recently, outdoors at the Arthur W. Perdue Stadium in Salisbury.

Dr. Steven E. Leonard, President/CEO of TidalHealth, addressed the 2021 graduates, saying that it seemed like yesterday when he completed his paramedic certificate at a community college in upstate New York. He explained that the certificate he earned 25 years ago was his start in health care that contributed to where he is today.

Leonard reflected on the COVID-19 pandemic, telling the crowd that “each generation has experienced significant events that have challenged society, and as individuals we will surely face more at some point in time.” Then he offered a few suggestions to help the graduates as they enter the next phase of their lives, battling a global pandemic, or, more likely, managing challenge and change.

Leonard told the graduates that growth never stops, or at least it never should. He said that success can be reached, or at least the risk of failure can be mitigated, by constantly challenging themselves to learn new things, acquire new skills and be open to growth and development. He added that learning new skills and the ability to adapt are invaluable.

“Look for others who can help … guide you on this path,” he said, explaining that they should find a good mentor who will give them honest feedback. Leonard added that they must be open to feedback, as it is a necessary part of growth, even if what they hear might not be what they want to hear.

He suggested that they also look for an organization where they can develop relationships, saying that they should find a place that can help them grow and develop, that looks at them not just as someone who can do a job, but as an invaluable member of a team. In the end, both parties should be motivated to maximize your potential and support every member of the team.

“There is no way to do everything on your own when dealing with challenge and change – pandemics or otherwise,” Leonard said. “Teams are like families – we work, we argue, we debate, we improve, we connect, and we’re there for each other. It’s in a shared purpose of developing a product or service, or in our case, caring for the community, that we all benefit and find value and meaning – and ultimately meet the mission … It’s important to work on problems, it’s important to improve our work, challenge and debate each other. We need to be comfortable doing that.”

Leonard also pointed out that no one is perfect, but that we have much more in common to build from than our differences. He concluded his remarks by saying, “You may be called to lead at some point. Lead from a position of service to the team. The greatest teams are the result when a leader provides vision, they care for their team and they serve the team. In the end, be there for the team and the team will be there for you, and the mission will be met.”

Russell W. Blake of Pocomoke City, chairperson of Wor-Wic’s board of trustees, introduced Leonard and the other members on the field, including Dr. Ray Hoy, president; Dr. Kristin L. Mallory, vice president for academic affairs; Dr. Bryan Newton, vice president for enrollment management and student services; the Rev. Peggy Briggs of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Berlin; and Sierra Dacre of Berlin, student speaker. Blake also introduced other members of the board of trustees, Kimberly C. Gillis of Salisbury, Morgan Hazel of Hebron, and Martin T. Neat of Salisbury; Acting Wicomico County Executive John D. Psota of Salisbury; Worcester County Commissioner Chip Bertino of Berlin; Sen. Mary Beth Carozza, R-38, of Ocean City; Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes, D-37A, of Salisbury; Del. Carl Anderton Jr., R-38B, of Delmar, Md.; and Del. Charles J. Otto, R-38A, of Princess Anne.

Addressing her fellow graduates, Dacre shared her personal experiences of how Wor-Wic changed her life.

“We all have a few particular individuals who come to mind when we think of the journey that led us here,” she told those assembled. “Each are important in their own way, shaping us all to be who we are today.” She said that whether it was a teacher, parent, sibling or spouse, the support that comes from them is crucial.

“When I first imagined college a few years ago, the standard university system did not appeal to me,” Dacre told the graduates. “Moving far away from home never sparked my interest.” She said that dorm rooms with their dark, gray, concrete walls, held no charm for her. “I was not fond of traditional universities, hence Wor-Wic being a top choice. A top choice I’m eternally grateful for.

“A short three years ago, I was not the same student who is standing up here today. I had given up on school. I enjoyed learning, but I really despised the environment,” Dacre told the crowd. “I was struggling with my mental health, and I had lost any and all motivation.” She said she skipped school whenever she had the chance and made so many mistakes that her high school GPA was destroyed.

“I needed a school that could, and would, provide me with the support I so desperately needed to truly succeed. Thank you Wor-Wic, for giving me an opportunity to redefine myself, and show my potential and worth. I am a firm believer that you are not defined by how many times you are knocked down, but by how many times you get up.”

WICOMICO GRADUATES. At left, Amy Merritt of Salisbury received her associate degree in business management, while her daughter, Laura Koller, received her associate degree in criminal justice at Wor-Wic Community College commencement ceremonies at the Arthur W. Perdue Stadium.

WORCESTER GRADUATE. Kayla Higgins of Berlin, who received her associate degree in general studies, shows off her decorated mortarboard, before Wor-Wic Community College commencement ceremonies at the Arthur W. Perdue Stadium.

SOMERSET GRADUATES. Jonathan Estrada Ramirez and his wife, Erica Estrada, of Princess Anne, graduated with associate degrees, in law enforcement and business management, respectively. They are shown with their sons, Riley, 8, and Justin, 5, prior to receiving their degrees at Wor-Wic Community College commencement at the Arthur W. Perdue Stadium.

Dacre told the crowd that this year was rough for everyone and that she thought that none of them imagined attending school this way. She thanked Wor-Wic for providing so many options in ways to take classes, even in trying times. “This year started to feel a lot like that year in high school when I stopped caring. Virtual learning is different, and was challenging to navigate at first, but guess what? I did it. We did it!”

In conclusion, Dacre told the graduates, “As you move forward in this crazy thing we call life … look at everyone you surround yourself with as an overflowing vessel – a vessel for knowledge, inspiration, love and support, a vessel that will fill yours with so many valuable things. Everyone has their own story, and within that story you may just find something that will change your experience, just as mine has.”

After graduating from Wor-Wic with an associate degree in general studies, Dacre plans to pursue a degree in nursing.

Criminal justice was the most popular major among members of the graduating class. One of the graduates receiving an associate degree in criminal justice, Jonathan Estrada Ramirez of Princess Anne, is a first-generation college student whose parents only finished elementary school.

Originally from Mexico, Estrada Ramirez never knew if he would be able to pursue his dream of becoming a police officer, because he is not a U.S. citizen. He always worked on a poultry farm. Right before he began his studies at Wor-Wic, he obtained his green card. Now, after a six-year process, he is on track to get his citizenship within two weeks of earning his degree. He had to go back to Mexico for two or three months during the process while his wife, Erica Estrada, who graduated from Wor-Wic with him, stayed home with their two small children, currently 5 and 8 years old.

“We were looking for a better foundation for our family and careers that we both can enjoy. Wor-Wic was a good fit for both of us,” said Erica, who earned her degree in business. “We loved it. At first, it was hard with our children being so young, but the variety of hours and ways to take classes made it less scary than we thought it would be. It has been crazy the last few years, being in school together and working full time, but there was always someone to help us along the way.” After graduation, Jonathan plans to apply to the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, with an eventual goal of becoming a state trooper, while Erica plans to transfer to Salisbury University and earn her bachelor’s degree in accounting.

Following criminal justice, general studies was the second most popular major. In addition to Dacre, Kayla Higgins of Berlin also graduated with a degree in general studies. A dean’s list student, she graduated with honors, and said she chose Wor-Wic because it was local, so she could still see some of her close friends on a regular basis, and because it was affordable, allowing her to transfer with zero debt. Another plus was that she could keep her job in Ocean City while going to school.

Higgins also said she was eligible to take advantage of the support services offered by the TRIO program at the college. Higgins said the caring professors at Wor-Wic and the support from the TRIO program helped her succeed.

She plans to transfer to Salisbury University to earn her bachelor’s degree in social work, then complete her master’s degree in order to become a marriage and family counselor.

 

Other graduates received degrees or certificates in business, chemical dependency counseling, computer studies, education, emergency medical services, hotel-motel-restaurant management, nursing, occupational therapy assistant, office technology, physical therapist assistant, radiologic technology and STEM.

The majority of the graduates were from Salisbury or other parts of Wicomico County, followed by Worcester and then Somerset counties. Graduates were also from Dorchester, Caroline, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot and other counties in Maryland, as well as from nearby states.

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