Both Clare Kelly of Easton and Jacquelin Smith of Greensboro show the kind of enthusiasm it takes be successful leaders who inspire others. They share the same experience of growing into leaders through their experiences at Chesapeake College. These two women will be honored Wednesday, May 22, with the John T. Harrison Award at Chesapeake College’s Commencement. The award-winners are at different points in their lives, but both discovered previously hidden abilities at Chesapeake.
Kelly is the president of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and helped lead the chapter to multiple district awards, including the designation as a Five Star Chapter. She encourages her peers as a tutor in the Academic Support Center. “School wasn’t always easy for me. I was taunted and teased for my mumbling and stuttering, and it seemed no matter how hard I studied, I was never going to comprehend anything,” Kelly said. “I never allowed these obstacles to ruin this love of school, because from a young age, I knew I never wanted to stop going. As I grew older, I realized this meant attending college.” Financial hardship and being told she “wasn’t smart enough for college” tested Kelly’s resolve. She persevered, took the encouragement of her professors and became a campus leader.
“Each of my professors encouraged me and taught me more about myself than I could ever realize. They saw potential in me — something I didn’t see because I was too blinded by my own self-doubt,” Kelly said. “Their time and advice made all the difference, and their power of a simple word, a phrase of reassurance or even a small smile truly made a profound impact on me forever.”
Kelly has a 4.0 GPA and was a semifinalist for the national Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship. A member of the Honors Council this year, Kelly was a congressional intern during summer 2018. Kelly also was named to the All-Maryland Community College Academic Team and was named multiple semesters to the dean’s list. She was a member of the Student Senate Association and is a Leadership Program graduate. “Clare embodies all that we hope for in our students. She is focused, hard-working, thoughtful of and helpful to others, and is genuinely proud of being a part of Chesapeake College,” Associate Professor of English Linda Earls said. “She will shine in all that she will attempt in the future and is most deserving of this award.
A liberal arts and sciences major, Kelly hopes to become a college English professor. She will transfer to St. Mary’s College in the fall.
Smith came to Chesapeake more than 20 years after graduating from high school. Smith, her husband and two children moved to the Eastern Shore from the Chicago suburbs. As a volunteer for her children’s schools in Caroline County, Smith learned she enjoyed working with students in a classroom. “I became a substitute teacher and later an instructional assistant. I just loved working with children and knew that I belonged in education,” she said. Raising two children and helping with the family construction business, however, left little time for an endeavor such as pursuing a college degree. Once her two children were grown, Smith decided to go “all-in” and enroll in Chesapeake full time to earn an associate’s degree as soon as possible.
“It wasn’t easy being the oldest person in every class. I now had classmates who were kids I’d worked with in the schools. Sometimes, I was even older than the professor teaching the course,” Smith said. “But overall, this was a positive experience. My professors encouraged me and helped me realize that I had wisdom and valuable experience.” With that encouragement, Smith looked for other opportunities on campus. She found campus involvement, particularly her work with PTK, helped bridge the age gap between younger students and herself. “I learned that I had something to offer for the greater good. The age difference quickly disappeared between the PTK members and me. They seemed to appreciate my contributions, and it was great working together,” she said.
Those contributions include helping PTK achieve Five Star status this year and earn numerous regional chapter awards. A dean’s list student, Smith also is in the Honors Program. “She is one of the best students I have had the pleasure of teaching, because she is naturally intellectually curious and wants to teach for all of the right reasons,” said Deanna Reinard, professor of teacher education. “She is the epitome of who community college serve in this country.”
She will attend Washington College in fall, where she plans to major in English with a minor in education. Smith’s goal is to become a middle school English teacher.