The College of Southern Maryland recognized 415 candidates for degrees and certificates during the eighth winter commencement, with keynote speaker Charles County Commissioner President Wayne Cooper.

Family and friends gathered to watch as 122 graduates participated in the ceremony held Jan. 18 at the La Plata campus.

CSM awarded 326 associate degrees and 89 certificates: 41 percent of the students receiving awards hailed from Charles County, 29 percent from St. Mary’s County, and 23 percent from Calvert County; 7 percent were from outside of the Southern Maryland region. Of the graduates, 70 percent were female and 30 percent were male. Associate degrees were awarded predominantly in the fields of general studies, arts and sciences and nursing. Most of the certificates were awarded in the areas of general studies and basic and advanced accounting.

The ages of this winter’s graduate and certificate recipients ranged from 19 to 70. Gregory Ciesielski, 70, of Calvert County received his associate’s degree in massage therapy. It’s not his first degree in higher education, as Ciesielski also holds a bachelor of science in education. Ciesielski said earning this latest degree in massage therapy and recently giving up a roadside business stand are part of the process of re-inventing himself. “I have always liked hands-on work, and probably always will, but I have spent most of my life concentrating on head work and now I am going to concentrate on putting my body back together,” said Ciesielski. To that end, Ciesielski is taking two dance classes – one in ballroom and the other in country – yoga and a hospital weight loss program, and going to the gym regularly. In addition, he plays both lap and hammer dulcimers with the Chesapeake Dulcimer Group. Previously a teacher in Prince George’s County schools, Ciesielski said his evolution from teacher back to student prompts him to recommend that college students, particularly younger ones, “come ready to work and study. In one of my classes, I worked with a younger student who was aiming for C’s while I was aiming for A’s,” he said. “It is disheartening when students don’t take more interest in their education because knowledge is the one thing that can’t be taken from you,” said Ciesielski, who will graduate with high honors.

Another honors graduate is Alan Bowling, 19, of California who received his associate’s degree in history. Bowling, who is planning on joining the Navy after obtaining his bachelor’s, was undecided on his major when he started at CSM. “I went through a series of interests, including engineering and secondary education, before I realized that history was a natural fit for me,” said Bowling, whose favorite historical figure is Theodore Roosevelt. “Deciding on a major was really hard for me because in the beginning I was concentrating too much on my end goal which is to join the Navy. I thought I needed to earn a degree in something that would directly apply to the work I want to do in the Navy but I discovered that it is more important to study what you are interested in and have a talent for. Applying that knowledge to a job comes later,” said Bowling. Why the Navy? “I live in St. Mary’s County near the base and I have seen planes flying over my house my entire life. We would go the plane museum and I would see all of the different types of planes and I just knew I wanted to fly, and when you want to fly, you join the Navy,” said Bowling.

CSM’s third winter class of nursing students participated in a recognition ceremony earlier in the day. Nursing and Health Technology Department Chair Sandy Genrich presented an Academic Achievement in Nursing award to Tasha Zochert of Owings and Achievement in