UMaine awards 1,870 degrees

Posted May 10, 2009, at 8:42 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — From the opening trumpet blast of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” to the last rollicking stanza of the “Stein Song” recessional, graduation exercises at the University of Maine on Saturday stayed on time and in tune.

“It was great, as usual,” said university spokesman Joe Carr. “Lots of fun.”

The Copland classic opened the ceremonies, quieting the excited audience and setting the tone for the traditional Sir Edward Elgar “Pomp and Circumstance” processional for faculty and students.

A total of about 1,870 people received degrees at the morning and afternoon ceremonies in Alfond Arena with another 10,000 supportive friends and family members packing the bleachers.

Commencement speaker Karen Gordon Mills of Brunswick, recently named by President Obama to head the U.S. Small Business Administration, assured the graduates they need not be dismayed at the prospect of starting their careers at a time of international economic distress.

“This economy will not define you,” she said. “You … will define your own success, and your success will define the future of America.”

Mills urged the graduates to pursue careers that fuel their passions and serve the nation. She encouraged them to find work and plan their futures in Maine, building on the state’s traditional economic successes such as the forest products and boat-building industries, as well as developing new industries and businesses based on innovation and research at the University of Maine and other institutions.

And, she said, the graduates should set tough but achievable personal goals.

“You will succeed even if you do not know today exactly what you want to do in the future,” she said. “When I graduated from college, I would never have thought that I would be walking into the doors of the West Wing to discuss national policies that will serve and protect America’s small businesses.”

Mills holds a degree in economics from Harvard University and a master’s degree in business administration from the Harvard Business School.

Saturday’s sunny weather encouraged outdoor mingling.

Local family members of new graduate Timothy Grucza of Strongsville, Ohio, gathered outside the arena just before the 10 a.m. ceremony. Pat and Ralph Nicola and Mary O’Neil, all of Indian Island, said their great-nephew majored in sociology and will spend two more years in college to become a paramedic and firefighter. Timothy Grucza’s brother Tom is earning a master’s degree in business administration at UMaine. Both students have attended the university through a federal program that waives tuition, board and room charges for American Indians.

“They’ve loved it here,” O’Neil said.

Posing for family photographs in the parking lot was graduate Nitu Gongal of Nepal. The 26-year-old business and accounting major is the niece of Sheila and Hemant Pendse. Hemant Pendse is the chairman of the department of chemical and biological engineering, and Sheila Pendse also works in the department. Gongal’s sister Kriti, a student at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., and her brother Prajesh, who just completed his freshman year at UMaine, were on hand to celebrate their sister’s graduation.

Their post-graduation plans were vague.

“We’ll probably just hang around and party with friends and family,” Nitu Gongal said.

Inside the field house, students in their caps and gowns were lining up in preparation for their march to Alfond Arena. As the valedictorian of the College of Business, Public Policy and Health, Charles Harding of Hermon was carrying the college’s gonfalon, or decorated banner.

Harding, already an employee of Bank of America, said he is considering available positions with the financial institution in Cambridge, Mass., and Charlotte, N.C.

On the other side of the field house, Harding’s girlfriend, Amanda Nason of Augusta, was adjusting her cap, preparing to receive her degree in communication sciences and disorders. She plans to attend graduate school to become a speech therapist, she said, but doesn’t yet know where she will apply.

“It depends on where we move to,” she added, referring to Harding’s career plans.

By the end of the day, 1,489 students had been awarded bachelor’s degrees, 327 had received master’s degrees and 40 were awarded doctoral degrees. The university also awarded 15 certificates of graduate study.

Honorary degrees were awarded to retired Navy Adm. Gregory Johnson of Harpswell and David Francis of Pleasant Point. The class valedictorian is Adrienne Sturgeon of Bangor and the salutatorian is Alexandra Albert of Eagle Lake.

On the Web: www.umaine.edu/commencement09

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