HOULTON, Maine — For Kim Goodall, 20, her decisions came down to her daughter, 7-month-old Adria.
She was the reason Goodall was clad in cap and gown Thursday evening, ready to wrap her hands around her high school diploma with an acceptance letter to Northern Maine Community College sitting at home.
“I had a daughter seven months ago, and that’s the whole reason I’m here,” Goodall, an Island Falls resident, said before the ceremony. “I am finishing high school now, two years late, but it still means just as much. It means I am going to make a better life for me and my daughter.”
Goodall was one of 86 graduates who were recognized at a ceremony at the Houlton Higher Education Ceremony on Thursday evening. The fete recognized graduates of the SAD 29-SAD 70 Adult Education Program, the Carleton Project — an alternative high school — the University of Maine at Presque Isle, the University of Maine at Augusta and Northern Maine Community College.
Most of the UMPI, UMA and NMCC graduates at the ceremony took the majority of their courses at the Houlton center, and the Carleton Project and the Adult Education service both are located at the center. Students at the ceremony hailed from southern Aroostook County, northern Penobscot County, western New Brunswick and beyond.
Goodall, with her 2010 tassel getting tangled in her freshly curled hair, said she “never thought” she’d get her diploma.
“I left high school because I thought I had better things to do,” she said with a laugh. “I was a teenager and thought that it would be a breeze to get my diploma later. I never did, and then I had my daughter and I grew up.”
Jeff Hannigan, 18, of Houlton also earned his high school diploma through the Carleton Project. He said he left school last year “because there really wasn’t a way to express yourself there.”
“Once I left school I came right to the Carleton Project,” he said. “It was the best choice for me, and I’ve had the best time here.”
Hannigan said he wants to pursue a career in shoe design. He plans to gather up his sketches, find some business partners and start his career.
He is looking forward to a future “in the big city.”
Goodall and Hannigan both credited the staff at the Carleton Project, particularly Al Morris, the founder of the school, its principal and a teacher at the center, for their success.
“Al is great,” said Goodall. “He is the best person I have ever met. He helped me so much, as did all of my family. I am so excited to go on to college in the fall.”
During the ceremony, Sarah Smiley, author of the nationally syndicated newspaper column “Shore Duty,” which reaches more than 2 million readers weekly, served as guest speaker. Smiley congratulated the graduates on their success and spoke about her own journey going back to school this year to pursue a master’s degree in mass communications after not having been in an academic setting for 11 years.
Smiley, whose column appears Mondays in the Bangor Daily News, said that during her first few days of school at the University of Maine, she thought most of her classmates “had just put down their Xbox to come to class.” But she soon realized that pursuing higher education would benefit more than just her.
“Education is a gift,” Smiley told the graduates, saying she is older and wiser than she was when she was in college. “This time, I understand what it means for me and my family.”
Otis Smith, the SAD 29-SAD 70 adult education director, also congratulated the graduates and offered them advice.
Smith encouraged them to “live the lyrics ‘And I promise you, kid, that I’ll give so much more than I get,’” from the song “Haven’t Met You Yet” sung by Michael Buble.
He also encouraged the graduates to “pay it forward” as they advance through the rest of their lives.