Graduates, please come back soon

Posted June 12, 2009, at 6:13 p.m.

Twenty-one years ago this month my grandmother and I were taking a walk “up to the boat landing” in Newport when she decided it was time to discuss my future.

I recently had been transferred into the Bangor newsroom from the smaller mid-Maine bureau and it involved moving. The dicey part was that I was moving into my boyfriend’s Bangor apartment, a small fact I had avoided sharing with her. I figured she was going to offer up her feelings about my new, seemingly sinful living situation.

Kindly she let me off the hook, telling me upfront that she was aware of that and to my surprise did not seem bothered by it. The fact that he actually was a boyfriend who wore white shirts and ties to work — and even held a steady job — may have contributed to her acceptance of that situation. But clearly something was trou-bling her as we walked and chatted and finally she came out with it.

“I just wish you didn’t have to move so far away,” she said

In the 1960s and 1970s the world, at least the world around Newport, Maine, was not nearly as mobile as it is today. Generations of families lived side by side.

As a child it would take me about 3½ minutes to dash from my house to the one where my great-grandparents and great-aunt and uncle lived. I knew every family who lived in every house I passed along the way.

I did have to cross the river in order to visit my aunt and uncle and my grandparents. They lived on the “other side of town.”

By the time we had our talk on that day 21 years ago, my folks had built a home just behind my grandmother’s. I was living in a small cottage on the same property and my sister and her family had purchased a house on the same street, one block away.

Relatively speaking, Bangor indeed was far away.

It seems a silly and amusing story today given the fast-paced and portable society we live in.

During the past week I attended graduations and graduation parties and listened to speeches and tidbits of excited conversation about future plans.

It’s a time worthy of great celebration, but hovering beneath are some pretty sobering statistics.

The United States now ranks 12th in secondary education attainment for 25- to 34-year-olds, having made little or no progress in that area within the past 30 years.

Americans retiring today are better educated than the young people now entering the work force.

As for young people holding bachelor’s degrees, Maine lags behind the New England average by 30 percent.

More and more of those going on to college are doing so out of state, and it certainly is no secret that the vast majority of those young men and women are not coming home to roost — or to practice law, or medicine, or to teach, or to build new businesses, or to raise their kids who would fill our schools.

Last week the father of one of my most cherished childhood friends gave the commencement address at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport.

Goodwin Gilman is arguably one of the most successful businessmen in the state and certainly one of the most philanthropic people in central and eastern Maine.

He was a wise choice for many reasons, but perhaps mostly because Goody is the perfect example of a small-town kid who got his education at Newport High School, Hebron Academy and Dartmouth College, and returned to his small town and spent the rest of his years there employing hundreds of other central Maine people at his electrical supply company.

His speech last Saturday night was filled with much self-deprecating humor, saying that the Nokomis graduates had “drawn the short straw” in getting him as a speaker because he really had “never left the Main Street of Newport.”

Here’s part of his speech that was titled “No Need to Apologize.”

“I was born in that pink house (on Main Street) next to the post office,” he said. “I lived for 52 years just two doors down the street where Dale Thistle now has his law office. In 1994 I moved across the street to the big white house with the carriage on the lawn.

“I started my electrical business in the back of my father’s hardware store, located (also on Main Street) where the Newport Cultural Center now stands. I later moved my business to outer Main Street, where the ‘Triangle’ is.

“I have always attended the Methodist church at the corner of Main and High streets.

“Now, from where I started my business to where my office is now is approximately a half a mile and right in the middle of that half a mile is the funeral home. I can just imagine the day, when my time comes, that a couple of old-timers will be having a cup of coffee, reading the obituaries and one saying to the other, ‘Goody Gilman, that was John Gilman’s boy wasn’t it? … Never went too far in life, did he?’”

But his primary message was that no matter whether they stay close or journey far they should never feel the need to apologize for being from central Maine.

As you travel, Gilman told them, you will be asked often where you are from.

“There is nothing wrong in saying that you are from Corinna, St. Albans, Hartland or Plymouth,” he said.

Or from Lubec, or Lincoln or Mars Hill or Monson.

So go further your education, Class of 2009, don’t apologize for where you come from, and, if you can, perhaps you may consider coming back one day.

Because we do hate to see you all have to move so far away.

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