He may have taken the long way home, so to speak, but the goal Joel Clement has pursued off and on since 1987 soon will be in his grasp – literally.
He will graduate on May 9 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from University College of Bangor, a part of the University of Maine Augusta. It is his third attempt to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
“Joel is one of those rare students who brings his whole self to his studies,” said Lisa Feldman, UCB assistant librarian. “He’s a big, big asset to our campus. He gets everyone going. He’s also typical of many of our students – they take creative paths to academic success.”
Andrea Thorne, UCB library assistant, echoed Feldman’s assessment.
“Joel is a very dedicated student. He knows how to balance school, work and family life.”
Clement credited Feldman and Thorne with being especially helpful to him. “No matter what questions I asked, they always came up with answers,” he said.
The Orland man began his journey into academia in the usual way, graduating from Bucksport High School in 1987 and heading to the University of Maine to study mechanical engineering.
“I tried to follow in my dad’s footsteps,” he said, “but I promptly flunked out. I flunked every class. I was told to take a semester off.”
Identified as a bright student when he aced the SAT as a seventh-grader, he had no excuse for not doing well academically.
“I was allowed to skip eighth-grade [and as a result] I didn’t fit well anywhere,” he said. “I ended up getting in with a bad crowd.”
But common sense prevailed eventually and in 1989, Clement enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He ended up as a deck hand on the submarine USS Will Rogers SSBN 659 for two years. He spent a lot of time chipping paint and repainting, but also got to “drive” the submarine.
The first time he was at the helm and tried to take the submarine down, the depth gauge was faulty and sea water sprayed everywhere.
“I tried to run away,” Clement said, “but the diving officer made me stay. That was my terrifying introduction into submarine life. As it turned out, it was a wonderful experience. It taught me what I didn’t want to do – and what I was capable of.”
After the Navy, he enrolled at the University of Massachusetts Boston and studied economics, but also had to support himself. He worked the graveyard shift of a full-time job, got off work and went directly to school until 3 p.m.
“I flunked out after two semesters,” he said.
Clement next learned to drive tractor-trailer trucks and did that for two years before taking a job at a call center in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
He moved back to Maine in 2001 and continued in the field, but finally decided, “I wasn’t going anywhere,” he said. At age 34, he enrolled at UCB.
“I came here on a whim. Originally, I tried to get back into the University of Maine to study landscape horticulture,” Clement said, but UM still has him listed as on suspension.
What he discovered at UCB was a comfortable place to be.
“I really liked it here,” he said, “the intimate setting and the fact that I actually got to talk to my professors because classes are small.”
Clement immersed himself in study and campus life at UCB, making the dean’s list semester and receiving the Presidential Achievement Award for maintaining a 3.75 grade point average.
Last year, he earned an associate’s degree summa cum laude in business administration and the UCB Business Administration Student of the Year Award.
He served on the student senate; planted a 20-feet-by-30-feet community garden in 2007, donating the vegetables to the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter; and volunteered to help build a campus float for Bangor’s Fourth of July parades.
“We designed cannons that shot T-shirts into the crowd,” Clement said. That float re-enacted the battle during which Francis Scott Keyes wrote “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Dr. Diane Boone, UCB assistant professor of business administration, has had Clement in several classes.
“He was always involved in whatever was going on, and even working full time he maintained good grades in my classes,” she said. “He would help other students and organize study sessions for them. Sometimes, I referred students to him [for tutoring] because he really understood the accounting end of things. He was an outstanding student.”
And he’s not finished. This fall, Clement will enter the Masters and Commanders graduate program at Maine Maritime Academy’s Loeb-Sullivan School of International Business and Logistics in Castine to study international business and marine management logistics. He also plans to get a commander’s license to captain 200-ton boats.
“Always be curious,” Clement said. “Never stop trying to learn. When you stop learning, you stop growing.”