ROCKLAND, Maine — Paulette Sylvester has coordinated the last 25 graduations at Rockland District High School, but she will be absent when Oceanside High School East celebrates its first inaugural ceremony in two months.
Sylvester will be retiring next week after nearly 33 years at RDHS, which was renamed Oceanside this school year.
Principal Tom Forti said Sylvester is an icon for generations of Rockland area students.
“When you refer to someone as the face of the organization, that’s Paulette for the high school,” Forti said.
Sylvester is a Rockland native who was in RDHS’ second graduating class in 1964. Her husband, Ken, worked for the telephone company, first out-of-state and then in Bangor before he was reassigned to their hometown 38 years ago.
Sylvester joined RDHS as an educational technician in the special education department. Sylvester said the position was an ideal match for her because her work schedule would match the school schedule of her young daughter.
Sylvester worked in that role for eight years until then Principal Leo Smith asked her to fill an administrative assistant position. With that role, she accepted the responsibility of coordinating graduations with the principal and senior adviser.
And for the past 25 years, Sylvester has ordered the diplomas, handled the distribution of tickets, gotten the flowers and everything else to make sure that the graduation goes on without a hitch.
The planning begins in February and continues building until the night in June when the gymnasium is filled with relatives, friends, community leaders and students,
She has seen more than 3,000 students graduate over her years. In the early years, RDHS graduated as many as 171 students annually but that has declined over the years. Last year, 94 students graduated from RDHS.
This year, Oceanside, which was created from the consolidation of RDHS and Georges Valley High School, expects to have 152 graduates.
Sylvester said she had considered retirement for the past few years. Her husband retired 15 years ago and she said he has been patient, waiting for her to do the same.
“I’m leaving with mixed emotions, but I’m ready to graduate,” she quipped.
While she will be retiring from the high school post, Sylvester will remain involved in the community with her role as a director of the Maine Lobster Festival. Her responsibility with the festival includes getting volunteers for the annual summer event.
One source of volunteers has been the students at the high school. The school adopted a community volunteer requirement as part of graduation a few years ago. Freshmen must perform five hours per year, sophomores 10 hours, juniors 15 and seniors 20. She said many of the students volunteer at the festival to meet the requirement.
Forti said that Sylvester has touched the lives of many students over her years.
“Our school has been better for having her here,” he said.
Upon retirement, Sylvester plans to traveling across the country. But she will be back in Rockland for the annual Maine Lobster Festival before heading back out for another travel adventure.