CALAIS _ With strong words to stay and work in Maine and Washington County and praise for their accomplishments, 157 students Friday moved their tassels on their graduation caps from the right to the left during commencement exercises becoming the 45th graduating class at Washington County Community College.
Under sunny skies, staff, faculty and students walked from the College to Calais High School where more than 1,000 family members and friends awaited their arrival. Chelsie Metcalf, wearing her cap and gown, sang the national anthem. She was followed by Dwayne Tomah, who sang a traditional Passamaquoddy song.
“I am proud of all of you,” were the first words they heard from WCCC President Joseph Cassidy. He praised the graduates for all that they had accomplished during their time at the College and for all of the things they will accomplish in the future. “I am proud to call each of you my colleagues,” he said.
Robert Clark, Executive Director of the Northern Maine Development Corporation and chair of the Maine Community College Board of Trustees noted that the students were among 3,000 students graduating from Maine Community Colleges this year. He reminded them that their diploma was a “symbol” of their success.
With gentle ribbing about his teaching style from Ryan Turcotte, President of the WCCC Student Senate, WCCC Instructor Darin McGaw, who was selected to give the distinguished faculty member address, was introduced. McGaw is a mathematics Instructor at the college. He urged the students to “Stay thirsty for knowledge.” He also reminded them that life was an endless set of choices, and it was some of those choices that had led them to college and graduation day.
The graduates and audience then welcomed Becky Washburn, who was selected the 2014 WCCC Student of the Year. Washburn, who grew up in Dexter, but lives in Washington County received her associates degree in Medical Assisting She graduated with a cumulative GPA of 3.795 while at the same time raising three boys. Washburn talked about endurance and the will to win. A two-time cancer survivor she reminded the students that life offers many challenges, but urged them to never give up. During her struggles she said, she was like a sponge that needed to embrace everything. “I just wanted to feel,” she said. “Because as long as you feel you know you’re alive.” She received a standing ovation.
Chris Gardner, Executive Director of the Eastport Port Authority and Chairman of the Board of the Washington County Commission, then gave the commencement address.
Combining humor and words of wisdom, Gardner, who is a lifelong resident of Washington County and a graduate of Shead High School in Eastport and the University of Maine at Machias, talked about Washington County’s greatest exports, its youth.
“We need you,” he told the graduates. “You are our only hope.” He encouraged them to find jobs and remain in Washington County and Maine. He also urged them to get involved in local issues to help set the tone for future generations. He exhorted them to be a part of today’s decisions that will impact their futures tomorrow.
After Gardner’s address diplomas were awarded.
Although Friday was a big day for graduates, the day before was a major evening for current students and graduates during the Annual Awards Recognition Banquet. More than 300 students and their family members and friends attended.
They were flanked by banners exalting WCCC’s national reputation for excellence in education; last year WCCC was named one of “America’s Top 25 Community Colleges” by Washington Monthly. The college placed number 24 out of 700 community colleges nationwide.
During the awards ceremony, graduates were presented with plaques for their outstanding achievements and current students were awarded nearly $10,000 in scholarships including three $1,100 Thelma Swain Scholarship Awards.
Students were praised by President Cassidy and members of the instructional staff for their numerous achievements. There were plenty of hugs handed out along with scholarships and awards including Phi Theta Kappa Stoles for students with outstanding grades. Awards and scholarships also were given in the various disciplines. Among the presenters were: Ron O’Brien, Department Chair of Mechanical and Construction Technologies, Cindy Moholland, Department Chair of Career programs and Travis Stepan, Department Chair of Academic programs. Gayle Moholland, Director of the college’s TRiO program also handed out awards. Students who are veterans also were recognized.
Susan Mingo, Dean of Enrollment Management and Student Services, then introduced the nominees for Student of the Year. “Every year the Maine Community College System, of which there are seven campuses statewide, selects the students of the year,” she said. “This is the highest student award in our system.” She then introduced the nominees including: Angus Rogers, Amanda Moores, Matthew Riberdy, Cynthia Miller, Amanda Corning, Christine Murray and Kevin Neil. She then introduced Washburn, who was selected as WCCC’s 2014 Student of the Year. Washburn received her award April 23rd in Augusta.