WATERVILLE, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage told 194 Thomas College graduates Saturday to follow his example and take aggressive control of the paths to their goals — but he added that he hopes those goals include a lifetime of living and working in Maine.
LePage, in a commencement address for the new graduates and more than 2,000 of their families and friends, said the best advice he had for them could be boiled down to 10 words that have become a personal mantra during his rise from a disadvantaged childhood to the state’s highest elected office: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
“One of you sitting out there may be standing up here in a few years,” LePage said from a lectern in Thomas College’s brimming Harold Alfond Athletic Center. “We are working to bring prosperity to this great state and we are doing it for all of you. We want you to make Maine your lifelong home. We want you to become the job leaders of tomorrow. Help us by giving us your talents … to dream big.”
LePage made only passing references to his work in Augusta, which has been intense in recent weeks as he and the Legislature have drafted and passed numerous substantial bills and contended with five budget bills — most of them the result of an eroding economy. Though LePage has become an outspoken advocate for fiscal conservatism and at times has led with a prickly demeanor, none of that came through Saturday.
“We need to look forward and stop looking at the past,” he said. “The state of Maine is making progress, more progress than some would have you believe. I ask you new graduates to join me in that fight.”
Continuing on his message of self-confidence, LePage leveled his eyes at the graduates and said, “You can, you can, yes, you can.”
For Cathleen Cloran of Lincoln, who studied criminal justice and forensics at Thomas, LePage’s words resonated, particularly his recounting of his hard-knocks childhood. She was particularly taken by his description of a now-famous 50-cent piece that LePage said has been on his person every day since 1960, when his abusive father gave it to him in a hospital ward on the condition that LePage lie to doctors about the cause of his injuries. Instead, LePage left home and, thanks to help from friends and employers, went on to Husson College and the University of Maine.
“That was inspiring,” said Cloran.
Isaac LeBlanc of Jay, who earned a master’s degree in business administration Saturday, agreed.
“I liked how he brought the past and his experiences into it,” said LeBlanc.
The college’s 118th commencement ceremony culminated with the awarding of degrees, including honorary doctorates for LePage and Robert Marden of Waterville, who has spent his life in numerous roles, from Boy Scouting to serving on the boards of several community and philanthropic organizations.
Thomas College, founded in 1894, is a private liberal arts and business college that offers undergraduate and graduate studies in a variety of programs. The institution boasts a guaranteed job placement program that seeks to put graduates to work within six months. According to LePage, at least 94 percent of the graduates will be working within 90 days.
Saturday’s commencement marked the end of an era for Thomas. Dr. George R. Spann, who has been the college’s president for 23 years, will retire this summer. Thomas alum Laurie Lachance, former state economist and, more recently, president and CEO of the Maine Development Foundation, will take over the college’s presidency in July.