CASTINE, Maine —- The State of Maine training ship remained tied up firmly to the Maine Maritime Academy pier, but that did not stop more than a thousand people from coming to the school’s seaside campus on Saturday to witness the beginning of a different sort of voyage.
Actually, it was more like 266 voyages — that’s how many students received degrees Saturday at the state’s premier institution of maritime education as MMA held its 68th commencement exercises.
They received their degrees shortly after noon Saturday in MMA’s Alexander Fieldhouse, where more than 1,500 chairs were set out for the occasion. Parents, infants, siblings, grandparents, boyfriends and girlfriends and even a pet pig came to MMA to celebrate the occasion and, as a standing-room-only crowd, to applaud and cheer as each graduate walked onstage to receive a degree.
Dick Hall of Mount Vernon, whose daughter Abby Hall was among those who received Bachelor of Science degrees Saturday, was the one who brought the family pig. As he stood in an open door of the field house listening to the speakers, the 8-month-old porcine companion snuffled around in the grass a few feet away, connected to Hall by a hand-held leash.
“She wanted us to bring it,” Dick Hall said of the potbellied pig, whose name is Minnie. “It’s a neat little pet.”
As part of the send-off, Cianbro Chairman and CEO Peter Vigue, a 1969 MMA graduate, gave the commencement address. Vigue told the graduating class to strike the word “can’t” from their vocabulary. Maintaining a positive attitude, taking chances and facing challenges, he said, are key to being successful and having a positive impact on the world.
He cautioned the graduates that, at times, if they are ambitious enough, others will tell them that what they are trying to do has never been done before.
“Do it anyway,” Vigue said. “Good luck to each of you, and remember, never give in or say ‘can’t.’”
Among those who received degrees Saturday from MMA was a man who some might say has already acted on Vigue’s advice.
James Barr, 70, received an undergraduate degree from MMA seven years before Vigue did, in 1962, but has been back among the school’s student ranks for the past two years as he has pursued a Master of Science degree. Barr, who grew up on Islesboro and in South Portland but now lives in Milford. N.H., on Saturday received a master’s degree in global supply chain logistics, 49 years after he first enrolled at MMA.
Barr said Saturday after receiving his degree that MMA changed a lot between his two stints there. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, students were subject to constant discipline, he said. He had to march in formation between classes and take part in drills every day.
What hasn’t changed, he said, is the school’s academic standards. He said he is fascinated by education, but didn’t really know how little he knew after a 25-year career as a marine engineer until he came back to school.
Barr said he plans to spend two more years at sea before he seeks out a job onshore.
“I never say no to a challenge,” Barr said. “It’s been entertaining and educational for me.”