By Dr. Richard J. Siciliano, Professor of English
I want to first thank the person (whose name I won’t reveal) who told me 10 minutes before this celebration that I should have something to say when I am called up to receive my 50th year service award. Seriously, however, I had a feeling I’d be asked to speak, so I dug into my files and found a copy of the speech I gave 10 years ago when the college held its 50-year birthday. What I said then is still appropriate today, since I began my career here at Charles County Community College (now College of Southern Maryland) in August 1968 – 50 years and six months ago.
We are here to celebrate the service of many of my colleagues and friends who have served this college for decades. It’s also the year that this college began 60 years ago. For me, it’s a day to remember and to reflect. A time to remember those who came to teach and to learn at this college these last 60 years. And a time to reflect on what part the faculty and staff played in our students’ lives, in their choice of careers and in their successes.
I started my teaching career here at what we know as Charles County Community College 50 years ago, but I remember some of my colleagues as if it were yesterday:
- George Johnson (who taught history, geography, political science, philosophy, and no doubt some other courses the college was offering);
- Gary Williams, my English department chair who had the courage to hire a young inexperienced instructor. I guess he was desperate.
- Josephine Williams and Elda Maase, two English department colleagues and mentors who helped me learn how to teach;
- …and the late coach Bill Close, who taught history and was the athletic director.
I ran across a folder just the other day from my first semester in the fall of 1968, when I was a rookie English instructor. In it were the grade and attendance sheets for the first classes I taught. I was a little surprised it had survived all these years, but I was more surprised as I read the names that I still remembered many of those students. Some of them have passed on, some have moved away from the area, but others stayed in Southern Maryland: Micah Chapman, Linda Sullivan, Christie Petrilla, Mrs. Jean Bechtel, Mrs. Czes Barnes, Ron McLeroy, William Stickles, Carole Anne Barbour, Jim Hesson, Terry McCollough, Nancy Bolinger . . .
I received an email from Nancy some time ago. She was one of my students in my Freshman Composition and then my British Literature course. After she graduated from CCCC, she taught in the public school system here in Charles County, and then moved to North Carolina. She became a professor of English at Coastal Carolina Community College, and she had written to me saying she was nearing retirement. She asked for my advice, and she urged me not to retire. We’ll see.
When these students arrived in September 1968, I am certain they felt a little lost and bewildered by the new campus. It still smelled of fresh paint and newly laid carpeting. But they were eager and excited by the prospect of the new collegiate experience that they had become a part of. The college was then only 10 years old – begun in 1958 — but it was this new home on Mitchell Road just 10 years later that made the difference to the new students and to the new faculty alike. CCCC, with its own campus to be proud of, had become a reality for us. We were now part of Charles County Community College, and we were proud of it.
No doubt, we endured some growing pains. The campus was so new that there was no entrance sign. We only had one entrance then. And there were no signs along Route 301 to hint that a college could be found along Mitchell Road. So, unless someone told you to follow that road and turn down an unmarked driveway into the campus, you might just pass it by. The only thing identifying the college in the Fall ‘68 was the college seal above the front portico. If you overlooked it, you might think this new building in the forest was the county courthouse.
It didn’t seem to bother us that there were no lights along the sidewalks. Finding your way to the parking lot after a late class became an adventure. I learned to carry a flashlight in my briefcase, and I urged my students to do the same. But as an instructor, I remember most how my students took everything in stride. It felt like we were a part of something special, so despite the lack of signs, despite having no lights to guide us after class, this was our college.
I have the distinction of being the CSM employee who has been with the college the longest. Fifty years ago (plus six months), I was teaching my first classes, and my first students, here on a brand new campus. It had taken just 10 years for the then Charles County Community College to move from night school classes held at a middle school to the campus where we are today.
I now begin my 51st year with the College of Southern Maryland, and I will be taking a deep breath as I start my next 50.