Students from 16 different countries and a former Maine governor accepted diplomas at the University of Maine at Fort Kent 137th commencement on Saturday at its Sport Center.
During his last time presiding over a commencement ceremony at the university, President John Short, who is retiring in June, noted that 223 students from 16 different countries earned degrees this semester.
Among those who walked in the commencement ceremony was Cesar Carrizo, an Argentinian native now living in Mexico who earned his degree in 2004.
Carrizo attended Saturday’s ceremony along with his wife, three of the couple’s five children and Carizzo’s brother, who traveled from Argentina to witness the event.
Carrizo said he regretted that he was unable to attend his original commencement ceremony 15 years ago, as he was hired to a new job in Argentina immediately after completing his courses.
The Bachelor of Science in business graduate now works for the Bank of Mexico and said that the University of Maine at Fort Kent was instrumental to his success.
“I think Fort Kent is the best place to learn; not only in the classroom, but also living in Fort Kent. They really stick to their values and that’s important for anybody in their professional life and personal life,” Carrizo said.
Carizzo’s oldest son, 11-year-old Tomas Carrizo, said that he enjoyed watching his father receive a diploma at the commencement ceremony.
“He really did work hard. He deserves this adventure and I’m proud to be here to see him,” Tomas Carrizo said.
The younger Carrizo said he also plans to follow in his father’s footsteps to attend college one day.
“When I was younger, I wanted to be a soldier, especially a pilot because I wanted to fly and I wanted to win wars. Now that I have grown up I would really like to be an ecologist because I want to help the planet,” he said.
Tomas Carrizo also enjoyed the family’s stay in Fort Kent.
“It’s the most beautiful place I’ve seen because you can see animals in the middle of the street and in Mexico that’s impossible. Here there are more animals, plants and trees, and I really like that,” he said.
Also at the graduation ceremony, the University of Maine System board of trustees conferred upon former Maine Gov. Paul LePage an honorary degree in appreciation for his efforts toward supporting education in the state.
LePage received a standing ovation from the commencement audience as University of Maine System Chancellor James Page, who is also retiring this summer, presented him with the degree.
Page cited the many ways in which LePage, while governor, supported education in Maine, particularly with regard to the university system.
Page said that the former governor was “an early champion of [Fort Kent’s] Pleasant Street Academy, “which provides students an opportunity to earn college credits while still attending high school.
“He saw the promise in that,” Page said.
Page pointed out that LePage provided “leadership and increased funds” for the program, which has expanded to multiple high schools throughout the state with more than 3,700 students participating each year, and earning 12,000 college credits last semester alone. The program has saved millions of dollars in college tuition costs for Maine families, Page said.
Page also said that LePage was instrumental in extending a systemwide wide tuition freeze.
After a five-year tuition freeze, Page said the university system was planning to raise tuition rates, but LePage asked that the freeze be extended for a sixth year.
“He said, ‘I’ll get you the extra money if you keep another year of freezing tuition,’” Page said of the former governor.
Page said that the university system saw a greater increase in funds in the last three years of the LePage administration than in the previous 15 years combined.
“I don’t know how many times the governor fought tooth and nail behind closed doors [for the university system],” Page said.
A humble and smiling LePage told the audience that he felt “deeply honored,” to receive the degree from Fort Kent.
“This is God’s country; thank you very much,” LePage said.
LePage also drew laughter from the audience when he joked that since he has so much free time on his hands after leaving the governorship, he now spends a full 10 minutes brushing his teeth each morning to help make the other 23 hours and 50 minutes go by faster.
Following the graduation ceremony, LePage said he has not ruled out a future run for the Blaine House.
“If my health is there, it’s possible, yes,” he said.
Despite rumors that LePage and his wife, former Maine first lady Ann LePage, are searching for a home in Aroostook County, Paul LePage said that is not the case. Although the family is planning to purchase a home in Maine in the near future,
“it’s most likely going to be in central Maine, close to the coast,” he said.
Ann LePage, who is currently in Florida, will join her husband next week in Maine, where the couple will spend the summer.
Melford Pelletier of Wallagrass and Reynold Raymond of Eagle Lake received Distinguished Service Awards at the commencement ceremony. Pelletier graduated from Fort Kent in 1967 and Raymond in 1971.
Carrie Hessler-Radelet was the commencement speaker.
This story was originally published in the Fiddlehead Focus.