2019 Commencement Speaker
Ms. Sheila C. Johnson
Founder and CEO
Salamander Hotels & Resorts
Ms. Sheila C. Johnson is founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts (SHR), a collection
of luxury properties with more than $200 million in revenue in 2018. It is ranked
number four in minority-owned companies in the Washington metropolitan area. SHR includes
the equestrian inspired Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia, awarded the
esteemed Forbes five-star rating. The collection features two top golf resorts in
Florida: Hammock Beach in Palm Coast and Innisbrook in Tampa Bay (home of the annual
PGA Valspar Championship at the acclaimed Copperhead course). Other properties include
the Henderson Beach Resort in Destin, Florida, and the Hotel Bennett in Charleston,
South Carolina, which opened in January 2019. Read Ms. Johnson's full biography.
Honorary Degree Recipients and Board of Trustees Scholars
Ms. Sheila C. Johnson
Founder and CEO
Salamander Hotels & Resorts
Ms. Sheila C. Johnson is founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts (SHR), a collection of luxury properties with more than $200 million in revenue in 2018. It is ranked number four in minority-owned companies in the Washington metropolitan area. SHR includes the equestrian inspired Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia, awarded the esteemed Forbes five-star rating. The collection features two top golf resorts in Florida: Hammock Beach in Palm Coast and Innisbrook in Tampa Bay (home of the annual PGA Valspar Championship at the acclaimed Copperhead course). Other properties include the Henderson Beach Resort in Destin, Florida, and the Hotel Bennett in Charleston, South Carolina, which opened in January 2019.
As vice chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, Ms. Johnson is the only African-American woman to have ownership in three professional sports teams: the NBA’s Washington Wizards, NHL’s Washington Capitals (2018 Stanley Cup Champions), and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, for which she serves as president and managing partner. She also served on the Executive Committee of the United States Golf Association, where she spearheaded efforts to increase diversity in the game of golf.
Ms. Johnson was on Forbes magazine’s 2017 list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women. In 2016, she co-founded WE Capital, a venture capital consortium to support and empower female-led enterprises advancing transformational social change. She also serves on the board of the Greater Washington Partnership, which seeks to strengthen the region’s global position as a center for commerce and innovation.
She was a founding partner of Black Entertainment Television. She served as executive producer of four documentary films, including Kicking It, A Powerful Noise, She Is the Matador, and The Other City. She also helped finance the Screen Actors Guild-nominated feature film, Lee Daniels’ The Butler. She is the founder and chair of the Middleburg Film Festival, an annual celebration of independent film.
Ms. Johnson serves on the Board of Governors of Parsons The New School for Design and is a member of the Leadership Council at Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership. She is also a board member of the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
An accomplished violinist, she received a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Illinois, as well as honorary degrees from numerous institutions. She lives in Middleburg, Virginia, is married to the Honorable William T. Newman Jr., and has two children.
Ms. Mindi P. Jacobson
Co-Founder and Executive Director
Future Link, Inc.
Ms. Mindi P. Jacobson is the co-founder and executive director of Future Link, Inc., a Montgomery County-based nonprofit organization seeking to close the opportunity divide for first-generation, economically disadvantaged students by providing resources, opportunities, and skills to help them achieve self-sufficiency. The organization’s supportive model includes academic assistance, career development, internships, and mentoring.
Future Link continues to watch student academic persistence rates climb, the number of degrees and credentials awarded rise, and a growing number of talented individuals enter the workforce. Recently, U.S. News & World Report highlighted Future Link’s program model in supporting first-generation-to-college students into the workforce.
Ms. Jacobson’s career is associated with academia, including 10 years in academic administration and health services management in institutions in New York and New Jersey. Her experiences range from medical school accreditation, program and financial management, special event planning, management of grant awards, and policy implementation across seven professional schools. She was appointed to the Governor’s Taskforce on Telemedicine, a groundbreaking initiative in the mid-1990s.
After relocating to the Washington, DC, area in 2000, she found her true calling in the nonprofit sector. After working with the Friends of Wells Robertson House to address the chronic community issues of addiction, inequity, and poverty, she co-founded Future Link in 2008. She is also the former chair of the Preschool Board at Congregation Beth El.
She has received recognition and service awards for outstanding contributions to the community from the Collaboration Council, the Community Action Board, the Montgomery County Executive, the Maryland General Assembly, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and the Commission on Children and Youth.
Ms. Jacobson earned an undergraduate degree in health services management with a minor in business and personnel management from the University of Rochester and a master’s degree in public health from Columbia University.
She lives in Bethesda with her husband, Rodger, and their two children, Matthew and Lily. She is an avid reader and enjoys traveling, biking, and theater.
Mrs. Catherine S. Leggett
Senior Vice President for Human Resources
International City/County Management Association-Retirement Corporation
Mrs. Catherine S. Leggett is the senior vice president for human resources at International City/County Management Association-Retirement Corporation (ICMA-RC). She is responsible for developing and implementing the human capital and real estate strategy and aligning it with ICMA-RC’s overall business objectives. She is also responsible for the delivery of human resources services to ICMA-RC’s employees.
Before joining ICMA-RC, Mrs. Leggett was senior vice president of human resources at Vertis, Inc. in Baltimore. She has also held positions at PG&E Generating Company, Freddie Mac, Hechinger Company, and American Airlines, where she practiced employment law.
As Montgomery County’s first lady, she hosted the Executive’s Ball for the Arts and Humanities. She is a lifetime board member of Montgomery Hospice, chair of the Maryland State Commission for Public Art, a member-at-large of the Montgomery County Family Justice Center Foundation, a trustee of Imagination Stage, and sits on the Board of Directors of Strathmore Hall Foundation. She is a longtime supporter of the Olney Theatre Center. She also supports the Center for Adoption Support and Education, where she co-chairs the annual gala. She hosted the 20th anniversary celebration for Community Bridges in 2017. She is a member of the Society for Human Resources Management and the Senior Human Resources Executive Forum.
She earned Democrat of the Year in 2007 from the Montgomery County Democratic Committee. Bethesda Magazine honored her as one of the Women We Admire in 2010. She received the Friend of the Park Award from the Glen Echo Park Partnership in 2014. She and her husband received the BlackRock Center for the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018. Her professional recognition includes the Human Resources Professional Excellence Award from the Washington Business Journal and the Human Resources Achievement Award from the Black Human Resources Network.
Mrs. Leggett received a bachelor of arts in sociology and psychology and a juris doctor from Howard University. The Leggetts live in Burtonsville. Their daughter, Yaminah, a biomedical researcher, and her family live in Silver Spring. Mrs. Leggett is a member of Temple Beth El in Washington, DC.
The Honorable Isiah Leggett
Former Montgomery County Executive
The Honorable Isiah Leggett was elected Montgomery County executive in 2006, serving three terms. Prior to his experience as county executive, he was elected to the Montgomery County Council, serving four terms as an at-large member (1986–2002). He is the first African American to be elected to either office.
After graduating college, he entered the United States Army as a captain. He earned the Bronze Star and the Vietnam Service and Vietnam Campaign Medals. After the service, he worked for Maryland Congressman Parren Mitchell, as a Social Security Administration claims examiner, and as a staff attorney for the Department of the Navy.
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter selected Mr. Leggett as a White House Fellow for his exemplary civic, professional, and educational achievement. He was a professor at Howard University’s Law School from 1975 to 2006, then ran the day-to-day operations of the Law School as its assistant dean from 1979 to 1986.
In 1979, Montgomery County Executive Charles Gilchrist appointed him to serve as a member of the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission (now the Human Rights Commission). He served as chairman of the commission from 1983 to 1986.
He has been a board member for a number of professional, civic, and community organizations, including the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, Leadership Montgomery, the Montgomery County Chapter of the NAACP, Metro PFLAG, the African American Business Council, the Urban League, the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Forum, the National Bar Association, the American Bar Association, Phi Alpha Delta Legal Fraternity, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Mr. Leggett earned Washingtonian of the Year honors in 2015 from Washingtonian magazine. He has received more than 400 awards from other organizations, including the Leadership Award from the Maryland State Teachers Association, the Excellence in Leadership Award from Alzheimer’s Association, and the J. William Fulbright Public Service Award from George Washington University Law School.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from Southern University as a Distinguished Military Graduate. He received a master of arts and a juris doctor from Howard University, finishing first in his law school class. He also received a master of laws from George Washington University. He is a member of the Resurrection Baptist Church of Olney.
Mr. Elias Woldu
Ethiopian Community Center of Maryland
Mr. Elias Woldu is the executive director of the Ethiopian Community Center of Maryland (ECCM), which connects Ethiopian residents of Montgomery County to vital county resources and promotes the cultural heritage of Ethiopia. At ECCM, he advocates for the needs of prospective and current Montgomery College students. He also works closely with College leadership to eliminate challenges Ethiopian students face. He serves as a liaison between other Ethiopian organizations and the College to create awareness about how to effectively reach Ethiopian residents interested in pursuing higher education.
He and his team collaborated with the College’s Office of Community Engagement and other lead offices to sign a memorandum of understanding formalizing the partnership between the two organizations. The ECCM serves as the College’s “pop-up” engagement center, in which College staff bring services to partnering organizations throughout the county, such as college and career advising, workshops, admission and financial assistance with cultural sensitivity, and language access.
A native of Ethiopia, his dedication to cultural values, as well as his focus on community and business, led him to a number of volunteer opportunities and community engagement roles. He is an active board member of the Ethiopian-American Chamber of Commerce. For the Montgomery County Government, he served as a member of the Community Advisory Group for Montgomery County’s Comprehensive Economic Strategy. He has also served as chairman and vice chair of the Montgomery County African Affairs Advisory Group, which helps ensure that the county executive is well informed of and able to respond to the needs and concerns of African immigrants living and/or working in Montgomery County. Mr. Woldu also was a commissioner on African Affairs to former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.
Professionally, Mr. Woldu has owned and operated two 7-Eleven franchises in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, Maryland, for the last 15 years. He is the co-founder of the Suburban Washington 7-Eleven Franchise Owner’s Association and served as president for four years.
He received a bachelor’s degree from Coppin State University and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Baltimore. Mr. Woldu and his wife, Demoze Solomon, have two children: a son, Robel, and a daughter, Jerusalem.
Apprenticeship Scholar: Mr. Michael Philip Gibson
Mr. Michael Philip Gibson is completing a four-year apprenticeship program as an HVAC technician. He is graduating with a 3.9 grade point average. He is enrolled in the Association of Air Conditioning Professionals apprenticeship-related instruction program. He has been employed by Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) for 17 years—and will assume the role of mechanical systems technician III upon graduation. Ultimately, he would like to serve as a depot manager for MCPS. He is a passionate sports fan and enjoys watching the Washington Redskins and the Washington Nationals. He is an avid fisherman and duck pin bowler. He also likes participating in organized charitable events, especially for Breast Cancer Awareness. Mr. Gibson and his wife, Tracy, who is an MCPS teacher, live in Boonsboro, Maryland, with their two children, Alyssa and Kyle. A devoted father, he helps with his daughter’s Girl Scout Troop—and looks forward to coaching his son in baseball.
Germantown Campus Scholar: Ms. Marie-Alexandre Adom
Ms. Marie-Alexandre Adom, a biological sciences major and member of Phi Theta Kappa, is graduating with a 4.0 grade point average. She was born and raised in Côte d’Ivoire. After graduating high school, she came to the United States and enrolled at the Germantown Campus. She served as a math and physics tutor and as a learning assistant in chemistry. She received the Dr. Harry Harden Jr. Student Academic Excellence Award, the Edward T. Butler Award for Excellence in the Natural Sciences, the Biology Achievement Award, and the Honors Scholar Award. She won first prize at the Montgomery College STEM Conference by proposing a solution to cortical blindness using physics and biology. She works as a NIST intern and volunteers with elementary school children. In June, she will be volunteering at an orphanage in Indonesia, where she will teach French, German, and baking classes. She wants to pursue an MD/PhD, become a neurosurgeon, and establish hospitals around the world.
Rockville Campus Scholar: Ms. Shamim Azad
Ms. Shamim Azad, an environmental science and policy major and member of Phi Theta Kappa, is graduating with a 4.0 grade point average. Born and raised in Iran, she came to the United States, enrolling at the Rockville Campus in 2016. She could not speak English when she started her new journey at the College, but everyone at the school welcomed and empowered her. By graduation this year, she was a successful science and math tutor and a learning assistant for a 200-level course. She also received the Dr. Harry Harden Jr. Student Academic Excellence Award and the Edward T. Butler Award for Excellence in the Natural Sciences. Outside of school, she works as a dental assistant who loves to work with patients. She also volunteers in the dental field with Mission of Mercy. She plans to continue her education in the dental hygiene program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. She wants to spread awareness about the importance of oral health.
Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus Scholar: Mr. Benjamin T. Bromley-Coolidge
Mr. Benjamin T. Bromley-Coolidge, a biological sciences major and member of Phi Theta Kappa, graduated in December 2018 with a 4.0 grade point average. He also received a Delegate Scholarship. A native Californian, he moved to Maryland in 2016. During his time at the College, he worked part time, trained and competed in multiple endurance events, and volunteered for the LUNGevity Foundation and the Little People of America organization. Last October, he became the first person with dwarfism to complete the Marine Corps Marathon. He hopes that completing this challenge will encourage others with dwarfism to pursue dreams they once thought impossible. After completing his associate’s degree, Mr. Bromley-Coolidge transferred to University of Maryland to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences. His goal is to go to medical school and pursue a degree in medical research and immunology.
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