ESSEX — When Daniel Harrison moved from Ocho Rios, Jamaica to enroll at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) in 2019, he had no idea what to expect. He certainly didn’t plan on being named the 2021 President’s Distinguished Graduate, or giving commencement remarks in this year’s virtual ceremony.

“When I first came to CCBC, I was just intimidated,” he told The Avenue. “I was definitely hopeful, and I think that’s what made the experience so great — between the two feelings, hope was greater than intimidation.”

He was on his way to Health 101 Honors when he got the call. He said it started off the week on a high note.

“I have never been that emotional,” he recalled. “I was speechless. The only thing I had to say was ‘thank you.’ It was the only thing I could get out at the moment.”

He credits CCBC’s International Student Services with helping him adjust to America, and met some of his first friends at the office. He quickly became involved with the school’s Honors Program and student government, as well as the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, the English Conversation Club and the African Student Union.

Student government, he said, was key in gaining confidence. He recalled going down to Annapolis to advocate against proposed cuts to community college budgets which would have increased tuition — the advocacy succeeded, he noted with some satisfaction.

“I could not even have imagined being out there speaking to a group of people like the president of the college,” he said. “It built my leadership so much.”

Enrolled in CCBC’s General Studies program in Essex, Harrison has kept his grades up and hopes to graduate with a 4.0 GPA — assuming he doesn’t bomb his last Calc III exam. He says that if being the President’s Distinguished Graduate is the icing on the cake, a perfect GPA will be the cherry on top.

Currently, he’s planning on enrolling this fall at Morgan State University to study Electrical Engineering, pursuing his long-held ambition to become a commercial airline pilot. This dream, he explained, started with his first trip to an airport at just five years old.

“I never had a plan B,” he said. “I was on track to achieving that dream, but the flight school I had attended had a plane crash in 2016.”

That crash caused him to put his plans on hold, and a couple years later he spontaneously decided to join his aunt here in Baltimore to enroll at CCBC. He wanted to foster his passion for math, he explained, while also pursuing a degree which would let him work toward a career in aviation.

And his dreams of flight have not been entirely put on hold — he recently started flight school at Middle River Aviation, and hopes to earn his pilot’s license alongside his bachelor’s degree. An ambitious goal, he acknowledges, but one certainly within reach with hard work and dedication.

He did his first official flight on March 30, and said his smile afterward was one of the most genuine smiles he has ever had.

“I was at peace,” he said. “The sky is not the limit — the sky is my home.”

Of course, he thanked his family, both here in Baltimore and home in Jamaica, as well as his friends at CCBC. He gave special shout outs to CCBC staff Sakina Williams, who acted as his supervisor in student government, and Sidy Tandia, an International Student Services counsellor, both of whom were hugely supportive and helped him make the most of his time at CCBC.

And yes, he’s planning to weave pilot metaphors into his commencement address, which will be streamed in a virtual ceremony at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 5. He wants to tell his fellow graduates that the sky is limitless, and they can soar to new heights if they don’t give up on their own dreams.

“Me standing there delivering that speech is really the epitome of following your dreams,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been here if I never followed my dreams.”

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