Opinion

Lessons on display at Maine graduations

Late May to early June is a wonderful time to live in Maine, because before we welcome the millions of tourists to “Vacationland,” those of us lucky enough to call Maine home get to celebrate graduation season. This time lets communities come together to celebrate our young (and sometimes not so young) people on their accomplishments.

I’ve spent the past several weekends crisscrossing the state, speaking to high school graduates from Jackman to Calais and college graduates from USM in Portland to UMPI in Presque Isle about the lessons I’ve learned over my career – and at each of these stops, I’ve had three important observations that I’d like to share with you.

First: you’re never too old to learn. This is a message I share with each of the high school graduating classes I speak to, because it’s an important one. A young student who just completed high school might think they’re finished with their education, but that’s just not the case; our society is at its best when it is filled with curious, engaged citizens. Fortunately, we have many of them. I met several of these lifelong learners during this last month; first in Portland, where I spoke to graduates of the University of Southern Maine who had served our nation in the Armed Forces before pursuing their college education, and then in Jay, where I spoke to graduates of Spruce Mountain Adult Education who had received high school equivalencies, become certified medical assistants or graduated from a college transitions program.

These are people with life experience (one of the grads at Spruce Mountain was 85 years old) but they still pursued opportunities to grow in order to provide for their families and make an impact on their communities. They embody the idea of a lifelong learner, and set an example for how each of us can always strive to expand our possibilities.

Second: Maine communities are truly second-to-none. Now, I have this thought often — but it’s especially true for graduations. During these ceremonies, I try to address my remarks at the students, but it’s also clear that the achievement doesn’t belong to them alone: it’s also a victory for the parents who’ve sacrificed to ensure their kids can learn, the teachers who’ve worked for years to educate them, the support staff who’ve sought to create a positive learning environment, and the surrounding residents who’ve supported them all. And the communities do show up in force: at the Forest Hills High School graduation in Jackman, hundreds of people came out to see 11 students graduate; at Bangor High School, they nearly filled the Cross Center. They say it takes a village — and during graduations, the whole village comes out to celebrate.

Third, and finally: if the students I’ve met are any indication, our state is in excellent hands. Over this last month I’ve been to nearly every corner of our state and found an abundance of bright, energetic young people in each place. At a time when Maine’s population is aging and our state is facing a shortage of workers, our young people are the most important resource our state has – and whether their next steps are the workforce, a trade school or a college, I’m confident that these young Maine people will be making great contributions to our state very soon.

So to close, I will address our graduates of our state who I did not have the pleasure to speak to in person this year. To each and every one of you: Maine is proud of you. Keep learning, keep working within your community, and keep at it — you’re the future, and we can’t wait to see what you do next.

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