WYE MILLS — This year, the two winners of the John T. Harrison Award — the highest student honor at Chesapeake College — will be lauded in a non-traditional, virtual commencement on May 20. The winners, Jonathan Cook and Sheryl Leavell, are also taking non-traditional paths to their careers.
Jonathan Cook, 23, a Worton native, was homeschooled. He has worked at Dixon Valve in Kent County since he was 16 years old.
He worked part-time at the company as he earned an associate’s of arts degree in liberal arts and sciences, plus a certificate in theatre and performance studies.
He also worked as an office assistant for the TRiO Program at Chesapeake. He holds a 3.93 grade point average.
Cook has siblings who attended Chesapeake and had good experiences, but when he entered the college, he wasn’t sure of his path.
At Chesapeake, Cook discovered new interests which he may use to forge an exciting career path in the future.
He was an active member of Chesapeake’s Peake Players theatre company as a performer and production assistant. He participated in multiple performances and played the male lead in Chesapeake’s Fall 2019 production “Dangerous Liaisons.”
“When I started my first theatre class, I was petrified at the idea of getting on stage,” Cook said. “In his classes, he (Dr. Thompson) creates a great low-stress environment in which to learn. I ended up loving the class and auditioned for a show.”
In addition to his part-time jobs, Cook worked with Dr. Thompson on theatre productions and also assisted Richard Peterson, executive director of the Todd Performing Arts Center at Chesapeake College.
Both mentors showed Mr. Cook the possibilities of combining his interests in technology and theatre.
“This really opened my eyes to all goes into any performance behind the scenes. Lights and sound, for example, are critical to every kind of event. Computers are used so much in production, and someone has to write the programs,” Cook said.
Most immediately, Mr. Cook would like to find work in the IT industry so that he can gain some hands-on experience. He plans to eventually earn both bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
A graduate of North Caroline High School, Sheryl Leavell, 25, of Greensboro, briefly attended Chesapeake in her late teens. She later enlisted in the United States Air Force where she trained as a dental assistant and achieved the rank of senior airman. When her service was completed, Leavell returned to Chesapeake to pursue a degree in elementary education.
“I’d never been a great student, so I carried that with me into college the first time,” Leavell said. “In the military, I learned how to focus, and learned that focus and persistence are what you need to get results. When I came back to college with that experience, I started having some success and could start to believe in myself.”
Leavell holds a 3.8 grade point average and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. She is also an active member of Kappa Delta Pi Education Honor Society and participated in service projects at Talbot Interfaith Shelter.
Career inspiration, Leavell said, came from Education Professor Deanna Reinard.
“Dr. Reinard has not only been my advisor but a great mentor. She’s helped broaden my knowledge on various aspects of teaching and the world,” Leavell said.
She will transfer to Salisbury University in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree and plans to become an elementary school teacher.
Leavell said she believes her personal experiences will make her a better teacher and enable her to encourage her students as they tackle challenges.
Leavell and Cook are among the 325 graduates receiving certificates and associate degrees this year.
Chesapeake’s virtual 2020 Commencement will stream on the college’s Facebook page (@Chesapeake College) and YouTube channel at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 20. For more information, visit www.chesapeake.edu/commencement2020.