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College Names Winning Duo for Harrison Award

Posted on Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Robby Sheehan and Shirley Lake shared the top honor at the Chesapeake College commencement. 

WYE MILLS – How to choose when two equally deserving people are up for the same award? Don´t choose, award them both.

Chesapeake College administrators took the rare step of selecting two winners this year to receive the college´s distinguished prize for academic achievement and community service.

Shirley Lake, 43, of Federalsburg and Robby Sheehan, 19, of Kent Island were honored as winners of the college´s John T. Harrison Award at Commencement 2009 on May 20.

"It would have been impossible to pick between Shirley and Robby - and I´m glad we didn´t even try to do so," said Dr. Richard Midcap, the college´s vice president of student success and enrollment services. "Their academic achievements, along with their college and community service, mark them as two of the most qualified Harrison candidates we´ve ever had. They are both highly deserving of this honor."

The two students, with high grade point averages and dedication to serving others, came to Chesapeake via different paths.

At 39, Lake had three children and had just lost her job at a company where she had worked for 16 years.

"I was happy to be starting college, but I was afraid I wouldn´t be able to do the work. And I was still very angry about losing my job," Lake said. "I figured I would be just another face in the crowd at Chesapeake and only hoped that I could do college course work. There were times when I was in disbelief because I couldn´t believe I was sitting in a college classroom."

As a student at Colonel Richardson High School in the 1980s, Lake said she was interested only in "getting by and getting out". She didn´t think that college was in her future.

Once enrolled at Chesapeake, Lake was tapped for the Leadership Academy, which opened her eyes to possibilities. The experience eventually led to Lake´s appointment as a peer associate and to joining the Student Government Association (SGA). She has been SGA president this year.

This year, Lake spoke to the boards of trustees for all of Maryland´s community colleges during the group´s annual luncheon. Lake joined a group of Chesapeake students who spent spring break working on Habitat for Humanity projects in New Orleans. She represented the Chesapeake student body at Dr. Barbara Viniar´s inauguration as president in March and was named to the All-Maryland Academic Team for 2009.

"As hard as the experience was, I´m glad things happened this way. I wasn´t ready for college right after high school. I wouldn´t have had an appreciation of learning or for my instructors back then," Lake said. "I´m sure that I´ve gotten much more out of my education this way. Now is the right time for me to get an education."

That´s a philosophy that she is trying to share with other nontraditional aged students, including colleagues from her old employer. Lake, who currently has an internship with the state attorney´s office in Dorchester County, said she tells peers that pursuing an education is worthwhile at any age.

Lake said that being the Harrison co-recipient with friend Robby Sheehan is a bonus.

"Of course I was excited to hear about the Harrison Award, but I was even happier to know that Robby and I would receive it together. He´s been a great friend to me and I admire him so much," Lake said. Sheehan agreed that winning the prize along with his friend will make for a special moment.

Sheehan´s experience differs from Lake´s, but he is equally accomplished at Chesapeake. He is a Leadership Academy graduate, the former president of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and was named to the All-Maryland Academic Team. A liberal arts major with a concentration in music, Sheehan was chosen to play the National Anthem at Chesapeake´s presidential inauguration in March.

Sheehan began Chesapeake´s dual enrollment program as a student at Kent Island High School. At the time, Sheehan hoped to attend a four-year music conservatory after he graduated. He enjoyed his Chesapeake classes so much that he began to consider staying with Chesapeake for his college freshman and sophomore years.

"Every instructor here helped me develop intellectually. To me that´s what college is about. You learn in college how to use your mind effectively," Sheehan said. "All of my instructors acted like they cared about me – even the instructors in my online classes. I felt like everyone at Chesapeake personally invested in me."

Sheehan said he worked closely with Chesapeake´s music faculty and developed his craft, while earning general education credits. Recently married, Sheehan works at BankAnnapolis on Kent Island. The composer and pianist said he will continue to work on his music as he pursues a bachelor´s degree.

Lake and Sheehan´s paths will likely cross again in the future. Both students will pursue their bachelor´s degrees at Salisbury University and both said they hope to attend law school someday.


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