SMCM's Largest Class in History Graduates May 16 - Southern Maryland Headline News

SMCM's Largest Class in History Graduates May 16

Post-Secrets' Frank Warren is Commencement Speaker, Will Share his Secret During Address

ST. MARY'S CITY, Md. (May 8, 2009) - St. Mary's College of Maryland's (SMCM) largest class in history will graduate at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 16. The College will award more than 500 students with degrees and four educators with honorary degrees. Frank Warren, mastermind behind the internationally known Post-Secret Project, has involved the Class of 2009 in creating his Commencement address.

"My plan is to share some of what I have learned by reading over 300,000 of our deepest secrets," said Warren. "Some of these stories may be poignant, funny, or hopeful. I will share some of the best 'one-sentence Commencement speeches' that St. Mary's students submit anonymously on postcards. And I will share one of my own secrets, about my graduation, which I have never revealed."

Four prominent educators will also receive honorary degrees presented by SMCM, including Reginald "Reggie" Ballard, former principal of Cardozo High School in Washington, D.C.; Frazier O'Leary, Advanced Placement (AP) teacher who worked with Ballard at Cardozo; and Elias Vlanton, a history teacher at Bladensburg High. These educators have tirelessly promoted the future education of inner-city graduates. Following the Commencement ceremony, there will be a reception for Cardozo and Bladensburg high school graduates. Previous Cardozo and Bladensburg High School-SMCM graduates, many of whom have gone on to graduate school, will also be in attendance at the graduation and ceremony.

Sandra Feneley, co-founder of the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Oxford, a study-abroad opportunity for American students to study in England, will also be awarded an honorary degree.

In 1995, graduates from Bruce-Monroe Elementary School lost college scholarships promised to them by a bankrupt foundation. Dr. Jane Margaret O'Brien, president of SMCM, heard about the situation and decided to reach out and help students get into SMCM by offering them a full scholarship or help them find resources to attend other colleges. St. Mary's began a relationship with Cardozo and Bladensburg High School students and educators including Ballard, O'Leary, and Vlanton, to prepare the high school students for a college education. The college has since matriculated more than 21 other Cardozo students and more than 75 first generation students from the Baltimore area.

The St. Mary's Post-Secret Project was started by Warren earlier in the school year. As part of the St. Mary's Post-Secret Project, students were asked to send in their secrets, so that Warren could have a better understanding of the St. Mary's community to incorporate into his speech at graduation. He asked the Class of 2009 to respond to the question, "What is the message my classmates and I need to hear?" The students' response could offer hope, advice, humor, or wisdom, but they must limit their message to one sentence. Some of these ideas will be read by Warren during his address. During the graduation ceremony, Warren will be presented with a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

"I'm really excited that Frank Warren is our Commencement speaker," said Kathy Orellana '09, secretary of the Class of 2009. Orellana met Warren during a book signing at Barnes and Nobles during her sophomore year and had since advocated for him as the 2009 Commencement speaker. "His Post-Secret Project created a global community, which meshed well with our sense of Community at St. Mary's. We wanted to bring that idea back to the Commencement ceremony."

"Everyone's really excited about his speech," said Emily Elizabeth Hollis, vice president of the Class of 2009. "This year is rally different because we have a speaker that everyone's heard of. He's kind of an icon of our generation. The student body seems really excited about the creativity for this year's Commencement speaker and that we can be really involved."

Warren started the world-wide Post-Secret project in 2005, where anyone can send, on a postcard-sized piece of paper, their innermost secret in one sentence, with optional artwork. Warren receives 1,000 postcards a week and selects from these the 20 that he will post on Post-Secret every Sunday evening. Those that he doesn't select may go into his book-length collections, or, if there is a secret that a publisher refuses to print, it may become part of Warren's many campus presentations. In 2006, Warren placed 14th on the Forbes list of the 25 most influential people on the Internet. He has been a guest on "Good Morning America," "The Today Show," "20/20," CNN, MSNBC, CBC, Fox News, and NPR. His site has received many Blog awards, and the National Mental Health Association praised him for raising public awareness of mental health and suicide. He is a regular volunteer on YouTube's hotline, 1-800-SUICIDE.

Ballard will receive a Doctor of Education, honoris causa. Ballard was principal of Cardozo High School from 1995 to 2006. He was an activist principal who demanded that students respect their education and behave accordingly, and was also known as an administrator who could "be there" for them and make good things happen. Ballard worked with other staff members to create college-level courses at Cardozo so that students could prepare for the possibility of college. Ballard rode charter buses with the students when they came to look at SMCM and became a counselor to them as they struggled to adjust to a different culture in Southern Maryland. After a decade at the helm of Cardozo, Ballard left to become a vital part of Michelle Rhee's team in the Office of the Chancellor of Education with a goal to reform and re-structure D.C.'s public schools.

O'Leary will receive a Doctor of Philosophy in Humanities, honoris causa. He teaches Advanced Placement (AP) English language and literature at Cardozo High School. O'Leary is best known for his work with the College Board's Advanced Placement program, for which he is a national consultant. He also coaches baseball at Cardozo, and the same energy he brings to it he brings into the classroom.

Vlanton will receive the Doctor of Letters, honoris causa. He also works as a history teacher at Bladensburg High, in Prince George's County. Vlanton earned a master of arts in teaching degree (M.A.T.) from Johns Hopkins University. Many of his Bladensburg students are from immigrant families, and even when English is not their first language, they are successfully enrolled in his classes of AP American History and AP World History. Vlanton has also held the positions of technology coordinator, yearbook editor, and co-sponsor of the Mock-Trial Competition Team. He is a researcher and freelance writer for Village Voice and Nation, and the author of the non-fiction book, Who Killed George Polk? The Press Covers Up a Death in the Family (1996).

Feneley will be the recipient of a Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa. She won her first art prize at age eight, yet at the University of Calgary her double major was in English literature and chemistry. Feneley's goal was further study in England, and by 1971 she had taken a position within the Oxford University system at New College. Her background in literature prepared her for the intricacies of rare books, incunabula (works printed before 1500), and in helping pre-doctoral students and other undergraduates learn how to get the most out of their library research. She and her husband, John Feneley, co-founded the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (CMRS) in 1975, where she worked as founder and head librarian. Feneley is a member of the Royal Society of Arts.

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