PITTSFIELD, Maine — State Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan challenged students at Maine Central Institute on Wednesday to look beyond their classrooms for educational opportunities.
He recalled that while he was a student at MCI, he noticed a poster on his English teacher’s classroom wall. “Don’t let school interfere with your education,” the poster said.
That teacher, Lyonel B. Tracy, now is the New Hampshire commissioner of education.
“Everyone will put you in a category,” McGowan said. “They’ll ask ‘Where are you going?’ and ‘What is your future?’ Don’t let them. Follow your dreams and don’t be afraid to change.”
McGowan’s lecture was part of the school’s 2008 theme of citizenship, and was one of the school’s Patterson Lectures, which bring MCI graduates back to campus in an attempt to inspire students with their personal stories. MCI, a private college preparatory school, also serves the public students of SAD 53.
“You don’t know where your life will take you,” he told 500 students and staff. But, he added, a rapidly changing world points to new opportunities, opportunities that may not even exist today.
He used as examples: China soon will be the No. 1 English-speaking country in the world; if MySpace were a country, it would be the fifth-largest; there are 31 billion Google searches each month; and the top 10 jobs in the country didn’t exist in 2004.
The 1974 MCI graduate urged the students to look beyond standard textbooks and classroom projects.
“If I can leave you with one message today: Read,’” he said. “Read everything from the owner’s manual of a 1957 Chevrolet to a cookbook on French cuisine. Read.”
By reading about a wide range of subjects, McGowan said, students can be better prepared for the world they will enter after high school.
He also asked the students to look closely at public service.
“You should become involved. That’s citizenship,” he said. “It is important for you to serve in some capacity, whether it’s on the school board or town council.”
He used his parents, Barney and Anne McGowan of Pittsfield, as examples. “My dad built the basketball court downtown and helped create Fendler Park. My mom is raising money for the new library expansion,” he said.
McGowan told the students that he was first elected to the state Legislature at age 22, serving for 10 years. He served as finance director for Gov. John Baldacci’s campaign, was the 1990 and 1992 Democratic nominee for a U.S. congressional seat and served for seven years as the regional administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration.
McGowan recalled with pride some of the highlights of his public service, such as enactment of Maine’s Endangered Species Act — which has resulted in a 400 percent increase in the population of nesting bald eagles — and legislation that compensates victims of crime, as well-initiating programs that safeguard 440,000 acres of Maine land for future generations.
He told the students to look to the public service lives of some of Maine’s most honorable people: former U.S. Sens. George Mitchell, Margaret Chase Smith and Edmund Muskie, and current U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. These are just a few Maine people who have changed the state and country through their dedication to public service, he said.
“I encourage you to have heroes. Read about these people from Maine. Their actions have, in some cases, changed the course of this country,” he said.
McGowan also urged the students to slow down, both literally and in life. “Climb Mt. Katahdin next summer. Visit our 47 state parks. Paddle or hike along our wild rivers. Maine has 6,000 lakes and ponds and the amazing Atlantic Ocean coastline. You live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
“Get ready,” he told the students. “Reach high. Do the work.”