BANGOR, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage assured graduates of Husson University on Saturday that his administration was doing everything it could to create jobs so they can stay in Maine.
“We want you to find a job in Maine,” he said in his commencement address to graduates. “We want you to find your future in Maine. We ask that you call Maine home.”
LePage, who graduated 40 years ago from then-Husson College , received an honorary doctorate in public service.
LePage told more than 500 students receiving degrees that his graduation gift to them was 10 two-letter words: “If it is to be, it is up to me.” Husson has had many alumni move on to success who surely credit the school for the impact it had on them, he said.
“I’m asking each and every one of you to dream big and help create jobs in Maine,” the governor said.
LePage, who was homeless as a boy and credits college for changing his life, returned to his alma mater Saturday to receive an honorary doctorate in public service from Husson University.
“Husson faculty made a difference in my life. As you may know in a story reported last year, I had a challenging childhood,” the governor said. “I also had difficulty — some would say I still have it — because my first language was and is French.”
While the governor praised the faculty at Husson, Michelle A. Osgood, president of the Class of 2011, praised the staff as “the unsung heroes” of the university.
“They truly display what it means to serve,” said Osgood of Easton, who was awarded a bachelor’s degree in biology, in her address. “Our charge is to go and do likewise.”
Ellen L. Severance, a longtime waitress at the Oronoka Restaurant in Orono before she came to work at Husson’s dining hall, was elected an honorary member of the Class of 2011. Severance, 72, of Bangor graduated from the university in 1958.
LePage received a polite welcome from the crowd that filled the bleachers at the Winkin Sports Complex. Although it was cloudy and cool, it did not rain during the two-hour ceremony.
“This is awesome — chilly but awesome,” Ann McCarthy of Gardiner said of the ceremony. McCarthy came to Husson to see her daughter Mindy Grant of Crystal receive her bachelor’s degree in health care studies.
After LePage’s speech, McCarthy said she hoped the governor was successful in creating jobs so college graduates can remain in Maine. Grant intends to continue her studies to become a nurse, her mother said.
Most Mainers now are familiar with LePage’s story. He ran away from home at age 11 after being beaten by his father and was homeless for a time before being taken in by families in Lewiston.
His English was poor and no college wanted him when he first started applying for entry.
But the late Peter Snowe, first husband of Maine U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, encouraged him to seek an interview at Husson College, and he was allowed to take an achievement test in French. LePage was accepted to Husson and in 1971 earned the Outstanding Graduate award.
LePage credits Snowe and Thomas J. Anthoine, owner of Anthoine Rubber Co. Inc., for offering assistance. Later LePage received his MBA from the University of Maine.
Before being elected governor last November, LePage served as general manager of Marden’s, a chain of surplus and salvage stores. He is married and has five grown children, including two from a previous marriage.
At Saturday’s ceremony, another honorary doctorate was awarded to Diana Beaudoin, educator and longtime member of the Husson board of trustees.
In addition, the university awarded posthumous degrees to Rachelle Parker Tapia and Christine A. Goodridge.
Tapia, 23, her husband, Carlos A. Tapia, 34, and her 4-year-old daughter, Mackenzie Gray, all of Jonesport, were killed in a car accident in September on Route 1A in Dedham after a heavy downpour.
Her father, Richard Parker, accepted the Bachelor of Science degree in nursing on his daughter’s behalf.
Goodrich of Bangor died of brain cancer in October at the age of 55. Her nephew Lance Stewart accepted a Bachelor of Science degree in computer information systems for her.
Graduates rose to their feet Saturday and cheered the two women who were unable to complete their studies in the only standing ovation of the ceremony.
On May 21, Husson will hold a second commencement in Portland. Portland Democratic state Rep. and former Cumberland County Sheriff Marc Dion will be the commencement speaker.
At the two ceremonies, Husson will award a total of 685 degrees.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.