Of the approximately 210 students who walked across the stage during Carroll Community College's 22nd commencement ceremony, three exceptional students received a $600 scholarship from President James D. Ball.
Although the school has chosen one student for such a scholarship in the past, this year it chose three, Ball said. "It was hard to choose just one. … I couldn't do it," Ball said. "These three students are superb in their own right."
Students had to meet the following requirements: a 4.0 GPA; at least 45 credits completed at Carroll; and evidence of outstanding service to the community and activities outside of the classroom.
Melody Blades, 33, of Eldersburg, was selected to receive the President's Academic Excellence Award. Blades, a single mother, earned her associate degree in computer information science from CCC on Wednesday. She sees earning the degree as an opportunity to provide a better life for her 3-year-old daughter.
Blades earned a 4.0 GPA; volunteered at Chelsea's Gentle Care, a community child development center, and at Days End Horse Farm Rescue; joined the Phi Theta Kappa honor society; and assisted teachers as a volunteer at Samuel F.B. Morse Elementary School — all as a full-time student.
Blades said she is excited about the milestone. It wasn't easy maintaining a 4.0 GPA, but it was worth it in the end, she said.
"It's been a lot of nights with hardly no sleep," Blades said. "There were a lot of nights where I stayed up until 3 or 4 a.m. studying. … I'm finally catching up on my sleep now."
Blades began taking college courses at CCC after earning a high school diploma through the college's Adult Education Program in 2012. Students can earn their high school diploma and sharpen English language skills through programs offered at the college.
"When I started going back and getting my diploma, I just found out that I still really liked school," Blades said. "I decided that I might as well try it. … Plus I have a 3-year-old, so I wanted to do it for her and set a good example."
She will go on to complete a bachelor's degree at the University of Baltimore, where she will study digital communications. Blades said she hopes to become a technical writer or a grant writer for a nonprofit after earning her bachelor's degree.
Rachael Boone, 20, of Mount Airy, was selected to receive the President's Leadership Excellence Award. Boone imparted some words of wisdom to students in a speech she gave at the commencement ceremony.
"To me that was truly inspiring — I've never seen a student do that before … to get up there before all of those people and deliver such a wonderful speech," Ball said after the ceremony.
She earned her associate degree in business administration.
In addition to the duties that come with being a full-time member of the Hill Scholars Program, an honors program at the school, she served as a student ambassador, president of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, a member of the Campus Activities Board, a member of the All Maryland Academic Team and a participant in the Advanced Leadership Challenge.
She was also a student employee for the school's Office of Student Life and an intern for the Carroll Community College Foundation.
Boone said it was tough to balance getting good grades with working and also being involved in activities on campus.
"But I was able to juggle it all with help and support of people around me," Boone said. "Overall my experience at Carroll has been amazing."
Boone will transfer to Stetson University in Florida, where she plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in business.
"The whole transfer process really scared me, but the faculty and staff have been so helpful," Boone said.
Boone said she will be the first in her immediate family to pursue a bachelor's degree, so she didn't have much guidance in choosing a four-year school. But trips provided by CCC to other colleges helped her find the school that was the right fit.
"Even though I knew I'd probably go somewhere in Florida because my parents are moving there, it was nice to see what a small private school or a big state school looks like," Boone said.
Andrew Spangler, 19, of Westminster, received the President's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Excellence Award.
Spangler, who was home-schooled before taking concurrent enrollment classes at CCC, earned an associate degree in engineering.
"Especially for me being home-schooled, it is great to have that transition. A university would have been overwhelming for me," Spangler said.
Spangler said he always had a knack for fixing things growing up, and that's why his family encouraged him to study engineering. But after hearing how difficult engineering can be, he was concerned it might be too difficult, he said.
After taking a few classes at CCC, Spangler realized he was capable of pursuing the difficult subject, which requires many challenging courses in science and math.
Spangler has balanced the difficult course load with working about 30 hours a week at a Safeway store in Westminster. He is also a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society.
"Between work and the classes I've taken, I haven't had too much time to do much else," he said. "It's been a lot of hard work, but as my classes have gotten harder, I've gotten to know my classmates and we formed a study group to learn the material, which helped so much with math and science."
For example, this semester in his physics and Calculus III courses he assembled a study group for the final exams.
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"I did really well in the final and it paid off," said Spangler, who also maintained a 4.0 GPA.
Spangler will transfer to the University of Maryland, College Park, where he plans to study civil engineering on a full scholarship.
He said community college is a good option for students looking to save money before transferring to a four-year school but recommends that students plan ahead.
"It's good to try to decide what you want to do because of the way the classes will line up. If you don't take the right classes at the right time, it may delay you a little bit. But the faculty here is truly amazing with helping you along," Spangler said.