Saturday's Commencement address at the University of Maine was delivered by Old Town native and alumna Bridget Ziegelaar, the operations manager for NASA's International Space Station Research Integration Office. More than1,700 students, including upward of 40 doctoral degree candidates, participated in the University of Maine’s 217th Commencement on May 11 in Alfond Arena. UMaine Commencement was held in two ceremonies, beginning at 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

When she was invited earlier this year to give the commencement address at the University of Maine’s graduation ceremony, held this weekend at the Alfond Arena, Old Town native and NASA scientist Bridget Ziegelaar’s first thought was about pizza.

“I was so pleased to think that I could have Pat’s Pizza,” said Ziegelaar, operations manager for NASA’s International Space Station Research Integration Office and a 1996 UMaine graduate, who also spoke about her fond memories of growing up in Old Town and idolizing the UMaine ice hockey team.

Today, Ziegelaar is in charge of a team of NASA scientists based in Houston, Texas, managing the day-to-day operations at the International Space Station.

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“It was always my dream to be involved in the space program, and I always knew it would start for me with UMaine,” said Ziegelaar, who majored in mechanical engineering.

In her career at NASA, Ziegelaar has worked on missions to repair space shuttles — efforts that can be nail-bitingly precise. Their success or failure can be dependent on one thing: effective teamwork.

“In those situations, teamwork is what will help you succeed,” she said.

Ziegelaar spoke to the more than 1,700 undergraduate and graduate students receiving their degrees from the University of Maine at the ceremony, held in two sessions in the morning and afternoon. It was Joan Ferrini-Mundy’s first graduation as UMaine president, after she was inaugurated as president in a ceremony held in March.

UMaine’s distinguished professor of the year, Sandra Caron, graduated from UMaine in 1979 and received her doctorate at Syracuse University and later taught at Cornell University, but said her dream was to someday return to the school. She did, and has taught human sexuality and family relations at UMaine since 1988.

In her speech at commencement, Caron spoke about the ways that faculty have the power to change the lives of their students. She recalled a story about a student she had in the first few years she taught at UMaine, who trusted her enough to come out to her as a gay man — during a time when LGBTQ people were far less accepted in the world than they are today.

“That’s what faculty members do: encourage students to follow their dreams, and provide a path to it,” said Caron. “It’s personal. It’s those one-on-one interactions that can affect positive change in the world.”

Among those 1,700 students graduating on Saturday was UMaine’s 2019 valedictorian Drew Brooks, who will have just a moment to relax this summer before he heads off to medical school at Tufts University in Boston. But Brooks, a native of the York County town of Lyman who graduated with a double major in microbiology and music, doesn’t feel stressed.

In his experience at UMaine, finding a balance between school, work and a social life was key to his academic success, whether it was singing with one of UMaine’s many vocal ensembles, working in professor Robert Wheeler’s microbiology lab, or hanging out with friends.

“Music and microbiology are pretty divergent in a lot of ways, but to me, they balance each other out,” said Brooks. “I think engaging different parts of your mind is how you’re able to think differently and look at things in a new way. I think balance is everything. Work hard, study hard, play hard.”

In Portland, the University of Southern Maine held its commencement at the Cross Insurance Arena, where keynote speaker Gov. Janet Mills spoke to more than 900 graduates about pride of place in choosing Maine as the place to pursue college — and hopefully a career.

“You should be exceptionally proud to be graduates of this place,” Mills said. “You should be proud of Maine, because Maine is proud of you. There’s a world of opportunity right here. We want you here.”

In addition to UMaine’s graduation ceremony, four of the five colleges and universities in the Bangor area also held commencement this weekend. Eastern Maine Community College held its commencement on Friday evening at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, while Husson University held theirs on Saturday morning, also at the Cross Insurance Center. UMA Bangor held its commencement at the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday. Beal College held its ceremony last weekend, May 5, at Peakes Auditorium at Bangor High School.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins delivered the commencement address to the Class of 2019 at Husson University’s 120th Annual Commencement Exercises. The ceremony recognized individuals who have completed their degrees from Husson University’s College of Business, College of Health and Education, College of Science and Humanities, New England School of Communications, and the School of Pharmacy. This year’s commencement awarded more than 880 degrees to approximately 810 graduates.

“Your Husson education will deliver real value for you your entire life. It will be the gift that keeps on giving,” Collins told the graduates. “Husson truly is unusual in its dedication to preparing its students for successful professional careers and to be lifelong learners. It is a quality I saw every day during my time here at the Center for Family Business.”

“I hope the next phase of your life keeps you in Maine, but wherever you may be, you can help to restore the sense of community that our nation needs to revive.”

Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.