ORONO, Maine — Few graduation speakers Saturday were more lyrical than the man who received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Maine.
David B. Mallett sang his “commencement address” during the morning ceremony at Alfond Arena. Mallett, who attended UMaine, shed academic robe and hood, to play his acoustic guitar.
“I knew this place, I knew it well, every sound and every smell,” he sang. “And every time I walked, I fell for the first two years or so.”
Mallett, 63, of Sebec told the full house that he was a theater student at UMaine when he discovered songwriting.
“I didn’t go to class much,” he said. “This is the first place I made musical friends, and I met my wife, Jane, at the Ram’s Horn Coffeehouse.”
Mallett said he wrote part of his most well-known tune — “The Garden Song” — a few miles from campus in Old Town.
“Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow,” he sang Saturday. “All it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground.”
Mallett invited the crowd to join in, but graduating students didn’t appear to know the lyrics. However, many parents joined in.
“Plant your rows straight and long, temper them with prayer and song,” they sang. “Mother Earth will make you strong, if you give her love and care.”
A similar theme was woven through the speech given by Justin D. Lewin of Castle Hill. On Saturday, Lewin earned his bachelor’s degree in biology, but he told his fellow graduates, which numbered nearly 1,660, and their families that his passion is trees.
“Continue to strive for growth,” Lewin told his fellow graduates. “Find your sun and grow toward it. … And, the Class of 2014 will become a robust forest. Measure your success from your roots to your achievements. Go on and grow tall.”
Lewin is staying at the university and is expected to earn his master’s degree in 2016. He wants to become a public school teacher of life science or physical science.
Kate C. McKeown of Turner, who earned her undergraduate degree in microbiology, also addressed graduates.
The morning session awarded degrees to students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the College of Education and Human Development, the Maine Business School, and the Division of Lifelong Learning.
After receiving an honorary degree, Maine writer Tess Gerritsen, 60, of Camden addressed the afternoon graduation session that included graduates of the College of Engineering and the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry and Agriculture. She urged them to remain creative by making connections between things that no one else has tried combining before by becoming lifelong collectors of random information.
“It means having a mental clipping file, which you can dip into when you’re looking for the solution to a puzzle,” she told graduates. “To expand that file, it helps to read books and newspapers. Explore. Cultivate new interests. Collect what seems like useless information.
“A builder studies an anthill and sees a new design for an underground parking lot,” she said. “A musician goes birdwatching, hears a robin sing, and it becomes the melody of his new song. A scientist walks on a beach, picks up a seashell and admires its beautiful internal curves. Years later, as he’s struggling to understand the structure of a protein, he remembers that seashell, and suddenly the protein makes sense. When he first picked up the shell, he had no idea that studying it would ever be important … until one day, it is.
“So be like that scientist walking on the beach, who stops to study the seashell,” Gerritsen said. “Or the builder who studies anthills. You may think you’ll never need the information. You may think it has no possible use in your life or in your job. But someday, that useless information may turn out to be Part Q, the vital piece of the puzzle. And it will already be there in your head, just waiting to be used.”
“The University of Maine is now part of your identity just as you are the legacy of the University of Maine,” President Paul Ferguson told the graduates.
He said that for each dollar Maine spends in support for the university, $5 goes back into the state in economic activity. He said the 2,000 full- and part-time employees at UMaine contribute $338 million to the economy.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on Saturday received an honorary degree from Thomas College in Waterville. The Republican, who is up for re-election this fall, urged students to remain in Maine but also to keep their “ears open.
“Listening and learning are the foundation of strong leadership,” she told graduates. “Leadership is best defined by the results it produces. John Quincy Adams, our nation’s sixth President, put it this way: ‘If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.’ In other words, leading by example is the kind of leadership that matters.”
Other college and university commencements in Maine this weekend included University of Maine at Augusta, University of Maine at Fort Kent, Eastern Maine Community College, St. Joseph’s College, University of Southern Maine, Unity College and Husson University.