ROCKLAND, Maine — The 152 soon-to-be graduates of Oceanside High School were encouraged by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, to get involved in politics, saying they should not believe they are too young, come from too small a community or are too inexperienced.
Pingree was the keynote speaker Sunday afternoon at the Senior Inspirational Ceremony for Oceanside students. The Class of 2013 will graduate Tuesday evening.
Pingree’s speech was the final one of the nearly 90-minute ceremony filled with short statements and musical performances by the Oceanside seniors.
“I’m inspired by your talents,” the Democratic congresswoman told the gathering.
Pingree said that the path students take in life may not be what they are planning now and told her life story to show how that can happen.
“I never imagined where I would end up,” she said.
Pingree grew up in Minneapolis, Minn. and acknowledged she was not a great student in high school. She met a young man who showed her a copy of the book “The Good Life,” which chronicles the 60 years of Helen and Scott Nearing’s self-sufficient living. The man, who later became her husband, convinced her to move to the island of North Haven off Maine.
They lived in a small cabin with no electricity or running water at the end of a dirt road on the island. Pingree said she approached the high school principal and asked to volunteer at the school but the board rejected her offer.
Pingree later attended and graduated from the College of the Atlantic, got married and had children. She ran a farm, raised 100 chickens and went door-to-door selling eggs. She then started a knitting design business and 20 years after being turned down as a school volunteer was elected as chair of the island’s school board.
Her entry into politics came in 1991 when she and her daughter Hannah attended a speech by then Colorado U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder in Portland. After the speech, she was approached by someone who asked if she would be interested in running for the Maine Senate seat in Knox County which at that time was a heavily Republican area.
Pingree won and eventually served eight years in the state Senate including as majority leader.
Her daughter Hannah would later run for the Maine House and eventually served as House speaker.
“Don’t ever think that you are not old enough to get involved in politics or not qualified enough or don’t have experience enough. You just have to be willing to work hard and say exactly what is on your mind with honesty and with all your heart,” Pingree told the students.
Pingree praised the Oceanside students for successfully combining their high schools two years ago — Rockland District High School and Georges Valley High School. She said Congress could learn something from the Oceanside students on how to work together.
Pingree referenced the graduating class’ motto from actress Mae West “You only live once, but if you live it right, once is enough.” She said she researched other quotes by West but joked that most were not suitable for the audience. The one she found that was appropriate for the graduates, however, was “I never said it would be easy, only worth it.”
An earlier version of this story used a headline about Ocean High School. It is Oceanside High School.