CARIBOU, Maine — Maine’s first lady Ann LePage made a special visit to the Caribou Middle School on June 13 and brought with her a pretty big surprise for one student.
As the middle schoolers knew, LePage launched the Maine is ME Student Artwork Contest last fall, and CMS student Kevin Duplessie was one of 37 artists selected from 867 contestants to be featured in the newly released “Love.Read.Learn! Baby Journal,” published in partnership with the Barbara Bush Foundation.
What Kevin and his classmates didn’t know until that Thursday, however, was that his artwork had been picked to grace the cover of the journal that will be distributed as a gift to new parents at hospitals statewide. The colorful scrapbook-style journal is filled with reading and learning tips, plus child wellness information.
Kevin met Ann LePage in December at the Maine Discovery Museum in Bangor, where all the contest submissions from northern Maine were displayed in an art show.
“I had a chance to speak with Kevin while he showed me his artwork,” LePage recalled.
“I’m really so proud to be with you here today,” LePage told Kevin during the assembly. “When first lady Bush and I launched the ‘Baby Journal’ last week at a press conference, I was given this poster of your artwork as the cover, and I knew I wanted to personally come up and give it to you as a nice keepsake.”
Kevin’s teacher, Jennifer Michaud, was the first in the area to be told about the honor and she called Kevin’s dad, Philip Duplissie, right away.
Philip said that keeping the secret until the Thursday assembly was pretty tough. In order to make sure Kevin dressed extra nice for the day, he employed a little fib and told Kevin that they were going to be taking class photos at school (because like most middle-schoolers, Kevin normally likes to wear jeans).
“When I saw my gram’s car and my dad’s car, I thought they were here for the picture day to see me get my picture taken or something,” Kevin said. “Then I walked in the auditorium and sat down and saw (the big Power Point projection announcing first lady LePage on the screen), I thought ‘What’s she doing here?’ and all of a sudden when she announced my name, I was really, really shocked, and happy, and pumped — all at the same time,” he said. He added that he was a little shy about going up to the front of the assembly to be recognized by the first lady.
Since it was the second time he was meeting her, LePage told Kevin that he could call her by her nickname — “Anna-Banana.”
“She’s a really, really nice lady, and she’s very kind,” Kevin said.
Besides the poster of his artwork as the cover, Kevin also received a photo of LePage and former first lady Barbara Bush holding the large poster of the “Baby Journal” cover. Bush had autographed the photo for Kevin.
Asked if he would like to say a few words during the assembly, Kevin had only five: “Thanks, everyone, for coming today.”
Later, Kevin said he was very happy that his family and friends were able to be there with him during the assembly.
The celebratory presentation occurred just one year after Kevin’s mom, Shannon Duplissie, died on June 4, 2012.
“It’s been hard,” Philip said. “But for Kevin to get this, it’s been great.”
Though the recent stardom hasn’t really changed the way Kevin looks at his art, he does believe that artistic talent runs in his family.
“I know that when my gram was a kid, she used to draw and my dad drew too when he was a kid — he’d draw cars and stuff — so I think I might get my artistics from my dad and my gram,” Kevin said.
During last week’s assembly, LePage also had a message for all the students about literacy just in time for summer vacation.
“Before you all leave for the summer, I want to pass along this message on the importance of literacy — read, read, read and then read some more,” she said. “When children and young adults have a love of reading, they have a love of learning — and then there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.”
She encouraged the children to read anything and everything that interests them over summer vacation — whether it was a book, a magazine or even “read a comic book, if that’s what you enjoy.”
“Reading books are great, but over the summer, just read for enjoyment,” LePage said. “And if you think you don’t enjoy reading, try reading anything about something special that interests you.”