Northern Maine Community College graduates encouraged to make a difference in their communities
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — One hundred and ninety students received degrees during Northern Maine Community College’s 53rd commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 12, at the Presque Isle Forum.
Dr. Dottie Martin, dean of development and college relations, opened the afternoon with an address that encouraged graduates to take the knowledge and skills they’ve gained — be it in trade and technical fields, nursing, education or other majors — and become active citizens in their careers and communities.
“Graduation is not your destination. Today is just one of many miles in a journey that will continue throughout your life,” Martin said. “As you move forward I hope that you take the education and use it to make the world a better place.”
David Raymond, interim academic dean and arts and sciences department chair, used advice from philosopher Henry David Thoreau to express what he hoped all graduates would be able to achieve: careers that enriched both their professional and personal lives.
“Your love of work will make you a better worker and if you’re lucky the joy of your work will follow you home,” Raymond said. “Thoreau knew even in his time that the best work allowed people to live their life to the fullest.”
This year’s student speaker at NMCC’s commencement was Elizabeth Allen, who later received her associate degree in nursing. Allen is a non-traditional student who worked as a middle-school teacher for 10 years before pursuing her dream of becoming a nurse practitioner.
Allen acknowledged that many of her fellow graduates also are students who came to NMCC seeking career changes due to economic realities or simply out of a desire to pursue their true goals. She noted that their situation is not uncommon. In fact, the average American between the ages of 18 and 46 changes jobs at least 15 times before finding a career that completely fulfills them.
“There I was in my mid-30s, spending hours upon hours studying when I could’ve been home relaxing. But I knew that living with the regret of never pursuing my passion would be even scarier than going back to school,” Allen said. “Incredible things never happen when you stay inside your comfort zone.”
Recently Allen was accepted into Duke University’s master of science family nurse practitioner program in Durham, North Carolina, a highly selective program in which most people have a 5 percent chance of acceptance. She told graduates that it is never too late for them to make positive changes in their lives and thanked NMCC and her family for helping her as she pursued a new career.
“We all have one thing in common: we didn’t do this alone. We took the tests and participated in class discussions, but we never would be here without our families,” Allen said. “Their support has made our success possible.”
Stephen Richard, executive director of the Central Aroostook Association, an organization that serves individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities, delivered the commencement address and spoke about his own journey in realizing the power of one person to make a difference in the lives of others. But rather than focusing on himself, Richard recalled many people who have inspired him to be his best self.
Richard has been co-director of Aroostook County Special Olympics for 40 years. One year he met a mother whose daughter, Amy, was 12 years old but unable to compete in the Special Olympics Spring Games because she was just learning how to walk. At the time Amy could only walk 10 meters, but longed to compete in the 50-meter walk during Special Olympics the following year.
That day, Richard saw an opportunity to help Amy take small steps toward her goals.
“I told Amy’s mother, ‘Today, we’re going to have a special 10-meter race.’ She held Amy’s hand every step of the way and for Amy it was like she had run a marathon. She had the biggest smile on her face,” Richard said.
One of many stories that Richard told during his address was that of Pat, a 23-year-old man with Down Syndrome who lived with Richard and his wife, Lucy, at the residential center of Central Aroostook Association. Richard was also 23 and working toward his education degree from UMPI. Pat came home one day with a check for $7.80 that he earned while working.
At first Richard believed that Pat’s family would be disappointed that he had earned so little money from a week of working. But when Pat showed his father the check, Richard saw a reaction much different than he expected.
“Pat’s father had tears rolling down his cheek because that was the first time Pat had earned money without help from anybody else. No one had thought he would ever have been able to do that,” Richard said. “And when his father asked what he planned to do with the money Pat said, ‘I’m going to give it to Mom.’”
“All those people taught me to look at a person’s abilities, not their disabilities,” Richard continued. “I want you all to go out and make a difference in people’s lives and always believe in the power of one.”
After NMCC President Tim Crowley awarded the degrees, colorful confetti filled the air as family members and friends cheered for the Class of 2018. The graduates then marched to Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” and met with their guests for a reception that celebrated their educational achievements and the first of many destinations along their life’s journey.