HINCKLEY, Maine — State Rep. Helen Rankin waited 65 years to be able to call herself a graduate of Good Will-Hinckley.
On Thursday, she was awarded an honorary diploma from the school.
Rankin, D-Hiram, was given the diploma during the first commencement ceremony for the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences at Good Will-Hinckley.
The Maine Academy of Natural Sciences opened last September. It’s Maine’s first high school to focus on natural sciences.
Five students also collected their diplomas: Palmyra’s Caleb Chadbourne, Dominic Downer of Waldo County, David Hill of Corinna, Adam Micheller of Hartland and John Kimball, who was born in Portland but grew up all over the state, he said.
Rankin, 80, who is serving her second term in the House, lived in Redington Cottage in 1946 at Good Will-Hinckley Homes for Boys and Girls. She also attended the high school.
Before she ended up in Hinckley, Rankin had been all over the place, she said.
“My childhood was very dysfunctional,” said Rankin during her speech. “By the time I finished sixth grade, I had attended 16 different schools. I managed to pass every grade, but it never would’ve happened without the caring and understand of my teachers.”
She said her father left the family, leaving her mother to raise her and her four siblings. Despite her tough times, she said she always told herself “tomorrow will be better.”
“I wrote my aunt and asked to stay with her so I could finish high school. The answer was ‘no,’” said Rankin. “I could no longer tell myself that tomorrow would be better.”
Instead, her aunt told Rankin’s mother about a home in Hinckley that could help.
“My mother applied and we were accepted,” said Rankin. “As it turns out, it was no exaggeration in saying this place saved my life.”
Rankin said she was able to attend the high school, learn practical skills and have a warm, safe place to stay.
Despite this, she said, she made one of the biggest mistakes of her life — she left Good Will-Hinckley at age 14.
“I wanted to be with my family again,” she said. “I paid the price for not sticking with it. I’m not proud of that. We all make mistakes in life, but hopefully we learn from those mistakes.”
She later married, had two children and earned her high school equivalency. She even graduated from college despite not having a high school diploma.
She pointed to Good Will-Hinckley as helping her turn her life around and achieve what she wanted in life.
“Teachers don’t always realize what a lifelong impact they have on their schools,” she said.
She offered a few words of wisdom for the five graduates and those in the audience. Many fellow legislators also attended.
“Be the best you can be. Never give up on your dreams. Never forget the people who helped you change your lives. Make them proud of you and be proud of yourself,” she said. “Today is a new beginning.”
After her speech, Glenn Cummings, Good Will-Hinckley president and executive director, presented Rankin with a blanket that had pictures of the school’s buildings stitched into it. He also gave her a picture of Redington Cottage taken in 1946.
Afterward, Rankin hugged each of the graduates.