More than 600 McDaniel College students celebrated their graduation Saturday during college’s 153rd commencement ceremony.
Among them were Lavinia Sherrill, 33, of Westminster, a mother of two who will serve in the U.S. Army National Guard after receiving a bachelor’s degree in biology, and Stephanie Eckard, 23, of Westminster, a history major recognized for writing the best paper in the graduating class.
“I learned a lot,” Sherrill said. “I also tried to take advantage of the McDaniel Plan to have a more rounded education than just being focused on the sciences.”
The McDaniel Plan is the college’s version of a general education program, with the ability for students to customize their learning experience.
Sherrill was a dentist in her home country of Romania before coming to the U.S. for the first time in 2012 on a two-year work visa. While living and working in Ocean City, Sherrill met the man who would become her husband. They moved to Westminster after two months together and she made her Carroll County residency official in 2015.
As the mother of a 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old-son, Sherrill said McDaniel’s location a few miles away from her home made it convenient for her to pursue a degree. Her husband is also a McDaniel alumnus and was in the National Guard when they met.
“My dream my whole life since I was a little girl was to be in the Army,” Sherrill said, “and didn’t know how I would get there.”
On Friday, Sherrill’s dream became a reality when she commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army National Guard, Medical Services Corps. She said she was inspired in part by the heroic bravery depicted in American war movies.
Sherrill was also very active in the McDaniel community, having founded the STEM Club, held leadership positions in the Chemistry Honor Society, the Biology Honor Society, and Pre-Health Club, and was an active member of Alpha Phi Omega and a National Security Fellow. She said she appreciated the opportunity to learn a diverse array of subjects, from discovering a passion for national security to enjoying a course about Norse poetry.
The graduate will attend the Basic Officer Leaders Course at Fort Sam Houston in Texas before an expected deployment this summer. Sherrill said she plans to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) in September, which is a next step to applying to medical school.
The graduation ceremony on Saturday commenced at 2 p.m. for undergraduates, following a 10 a.m. ceremony for graduate students in the college’s Gill Center.
Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Bob Woodward, who is best known for uncovering and reporting on the Watergate scandal, delivered remarks at the undergraduate ceremony.
Eckard’s paper, “The Deathless Devotion of Southern Women: How the United Daughters of the Confederacy Weaponized Monuments in the Battle for Southern Memory,” won the Edith Farr Ridington Writing Award.
The 42-page paper analyzes how Southern women were instrumental in portraying Confederate men as gentle in monuments depicting them, in their attempts to assuage the bitter realities of slavery, Eckard said.
“When I turned it in I think I screamed,” Eckard said. “It was the culmination of so much work and so many drafts.”
The paper was originally assigned as part of a history capstone course that Eckard took during her penultimate semester, but she failed to complete the assignment during the class. Eckard said taking a temporary incomplete mark allowed her to pursue the paper with a wider breadth and spend additional time perfecting her work.
The paper earned second place at the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference in March.
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“Every single time I present it I’m always proud of myself again because it took so long,” Eckard said. “Also, I went from hating it to genuinely being very proud of it.”
Eckard added that she came to McDaniel with a passion for history and fell in love with the public accessibility of monuments along the way. The graduate said she will attempt to get the paper published in an academic journal this summer, and she intends to enroll in a museum studies graduate program.
Graduate Grace Maglietta of Finksburg, a writing and publishing major, was also recognized at the undergraduate ceremony, receiving the Argonaut Award for being one of six students who have earned the highest cumulative grade-point average.
“Half of it is just doing the work — going to class, turning in assignments, and writing good papers,” Maglietta said in an email. “The other half is being incredibly neurotic.”
The graduate was also awarded The Maria Leonard Senior Book Award and The Philip and Azalea Myers Award for Creativity in English during Friday night’s Senior Investiture and Honors Convocation. She said she has learned about leadership and creative expression during her time at McDaniel, and she hopes to one day publish her own book of poetry.
It is especially rewarding for a longtime Carroll County resident to graduate from McDaniel College, Maglietta added, because she attended her high school graduation, piano recitals and other community-driven events on the Westminster campus.
“Graduating is proof that I’m stronger and more capable than I thought I was,” Maglietta said, “and I think the same can be said of anyone else graduating this year.”