LIMESTONE, Maine — The ballroom was full Dec. 3 as more than 70 students participated in the Loring Job Corps Center’s winter graduation ceremony.
Straying from the traditional salutatory and valedictory speeches, graduates of the Loring center selected fellow student Maria “Fatima” Depina to address the class during the ceremony.
“I came from this small island of Cape Verde that is located on the west coast of Africa, which most of you probably never heard of,” Depina told her audience. “It’s a country where if you have dreams or aspirations, they would be hard to reach, because there is no school and it’s very poor.”
Depina told how her mother brought Fatima and her six brothers to the U.S. because she thought that it would be easier for her children to get an education and reach their goals in America. It wasn’t that simple, however, according to Depina.
“It wasn’t like that, because I had to struggle with a place to live, finding food and all those things needed for basic living,” she said.
At the age of 16, she found herself in a foster home where not only did she miss her family, but she also was teased because she could barley speak English.
She eventually found Job Corps, a U.S. Department of Labor program that offers a career technical training and education program for students ages 16 through 24.
Her stay at the Loring Job Corps Center was difficult, and she did give up once, but at the urging of Job Corps staff she came back and graduated, having achieved her high school diploma, her medical office support training and nurses assistant certification. After graduation, Depina plans to enter the work force as a certified nursing assistant and work toward college to become a registered nurse or a translator, as she speaks Spanish, Cape Verdean Creole, Portuguese and English.
“There were days along the way that she learned that not only was she gaining the academic and technical skills she needed to become a graduate, but maybe more importantly in some ways, she gained the confidence and self-motivation to achieve her goals,” said center director Kristie Moir. “We have all watched her grow and blossom into a young lady and professional that we are all very proud of.”
“This graduation is not an ending for me but a beginning, like a doorway to my future,” Depina said.
Guest speaker Dan MacDonald, center director of Eastern Aroostook Alternative High School, also addressed the graduating class. He encouraged the students not to be afraid of failure, to push themselves along the way and never to become complacent in their educational pursuits.
He also offered a little advice: “To be happy in life you will need to have a good balance between your work and personal life. While it is important to do the best job you can and continually strive to be the best, you also have to make sure you are taking care of yourself and your business at home.
“If you can make a living doing something you enjoy, then you are very fortunate,” MacDonald said. “But always keep in mind that ‘We do not live to work, but instead we work to live.’”