O'Malley urges graduates to change society

Governor lauds Anne Arundel Community College for its diversity and inclusion

May 25, 2007|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun reporter

Gov. Martin O'Malley, in his first commencement speech as governor, told more than 1,400 graduates at Anne Arundel Community College last night that the country and the world are waiting - and counting on them to move society forward.

In a keynote speech that began with a light confession - that "Navy and Johns Hopkins [University] didn't invite me" - O'Malley praised community colleges as "where America goes to college ... very much like a community garden of opportunity."

At the college's 45th commencement, under an illuminated white tent on an athletic field, O'Malley said he chose to come to the campus because of its reputation for inclusion and diversity.

He urged the graduates receiving associate's degrees to see their training as valuable to society and added, "Our jobs are what we do, not who we are."

Noting that community college graduates find their way into the working world in such fields as nursing and accounting, as dental assistants or in police, fire and emergency medical services, and even cyber forensics, O'Malley said the two-year schools are "economic engines."

A short documentary about the college, which was founded in 1961, encapuslated some of the differences between current musical tastes on campus and those four decades past: Goo-Goo Dolls and Black-Eyed Peas versus Frankie Avalon and the Beatles.

It also made note of the Vietnam War then and Iraq now.

Diversity among the graduates was evident in their procession into the tent, in race, age, nationalities and gender. Women outnumbered men by 2-to-1.

Among the women was the valedictorian, 42-year-old Olga A. Rehn, who spoke with hints of her native Russian language. She marched to the tune of Elgar on the sparkling evening.

As an immigrant to the United States from St. Petersburg in 1999, she spoke no English. Yesterday evening, she expressed amazement at the education that she received, with the help of a Russian-English translation dictionary, compared with her strict schooling in what was then the Soviet Union.

"We could talk about anything, government, politics, the legal system without thinking about it," Rehn said. "I never dreamed I'd be valedictorian."

The Edgewater resident said she plans to continue her accounting studies at the University of Baltimore.

In her speech, Rehn recalled her first days at AACC.

"The first semester I was very frightened, but I knew I had to do this for myself. Every page was marked with translation," she said.

She told her classmates that they might never meet again. "But our suitcases are packed with things: new ideas, memories and increased confidence," she said.

Her 21-year-old son, Ivan, was present to witness her honor.

Ethiopia Alemayehu, 31, named for her native country and now living in Odenton. said she aspires to be a radiology technician.

Lenny Hall, 21, of Pasadena said he is headed for the University of Maryland and plans to join his father's home improvement business.

For those who teach at the commuter campus, it was a time to savor the progress they had seen in their students over the past few years.

Computer science professor Dick Seabrook, a faculty member for 25 years, said, "They're awake, they're interested. This is a world of second chances, a place where you get to come back and try again."

Another faculty member, Bev Beatty, said her students have "true grit," some taking two buses to get to their classes while juggling jobs and child care, and sometimes caring for parents.

jamie.stiehm@baltsun.com

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