Hard work pays off as 2017 UMFK graduates awarded diplomas

FORT KENT, Maine — The University of Maine at Fort Kent on May 13 graduated more than 200 students from 14 different countries — the United States, Canada, Cameroon, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Korea, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Nigeria, Republic of Moldova, Republic of Montenegro, Scotland, and South Africa.

Among the graduates participating in Saturday’s ceremony at the UMFK Sport Center were married couple Ricardo and Kelsey Whitely, who earned degrees in business administration and nursing respectively. Ricardo, 26, is originally from Jamaica and Kelsey, 23, from Farmington. The two met at a UMFK dance and have a 10-month-old daughter, Jacelynn Mae.

The Whitely’s plan to stay in Fort Kent for the time being.

“The surroundings are very quiet and there is not a lot of violence here,” Ricardo said.

Kelsey has already passed her Maine state board of nursing licensing exam and is working at Northern Maine Medical Center and Forest Hill Manor where she worked as a certified nurse’s aide while in college. Ricardo completed a double minor in finance and criminal justice and has aspirations of becoming a police officer.

During college, he worked as a med-aid at Northern Maine General in Eagle Lake as well as at the UMFK Sport Center and received a soccer scholarship and academic scholarship.

His aunt, Norma Cloverloin Nembhard, also helped support him and traveled from her home in the Bronx, New York, to attend the graduation.

“She’s the one that gave me the opportunity to come here,” Ricardo said.

University of Maine at Fort Kent 2017 graduates included husband and wife Ricardo and Kelsey Whitely, posing here with daughter Jacelynn, Ricardo and Kelsey Whitely. (Contributed)

Ricardo helped win two national championships as a defender on the UMFK Bengals men’s soccer team.

With a baby, the soccer team, and three jobs between he and his wife, Ricardo said obtaining their degrees with honors — Ricardo graduated magna cum laude and Kelsey graduated cum laude — was not always an easy road for the couple.

“It was difficult but we made it work. We worked for the baby’s sake. She is our main priority,” Ricardo said.

Kelsey agreed that baby Jacelynn helped to motivate her to complete college, and said that her husband did as well.

“We definitely leaned on each other and supported each other’s dreams.”

Dr. George D. Nelson, emeritus director of mathematics and technology education, and professor of physics and astronomy at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, was the commencement speaker. Nelson is a former NASA astronaut who flew on three space shuttle missions and who was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2009.

President John Short presented John D. Murphy with the distinguished service award. Murphy is a 1980 UMFK graduate and has served at the university for 24 years, including as director of financial aid, acting dean of student and enrollment services, dean of student services and financial aid, and vice president for administration.

Isaac M. Young II was valedictorian and earned the presidential award for academic excellence, the rural public safety administration award, and the faculty academic achievement award. Emma K Ashby was salutatorian and earned the biology award, the presidential award for academic excellence, and the faculty academic achievement award.

Following Saturday’s graduation ceremony, both Ricardo and Kelsey expressed their thanks for the support of family members and the UMFK community.

Ricardo mentioned Joyce Plourde in the UMFK business office, Oniqueky Samuels, his advisor and business Professor Leo Trudel among those who helped him along the way. He also had a special thanks for his grandmother, who lives in Jamaica.

“To me it feels good because I made my grandmother proud. She was the one, she raised me. She is 96-years-old, and now to graduate and she is still alive, that means the world to me,” he said.

Kelsey said she is glad she transferred from Husson University to UMFK.

“It’s just, like such a small college. I wasn’t a number. The professors know who you are and it felt like a family; nursing school and clinicals felt like a family,” she said.

She said she also is thankful to her mother, sister and step-father and that all of the hard work paid off once she received her diploma.

“It feels good, very good, and it feels worth it,” she said.

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