Students watch a speaker at Husson's graduation ceremony on Saturday. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

More than 700 Husson University students graduated in ceremonies on Saturday as the university held an in-person ceremony amid the COVID-19 pandemic, after celebrating the milestone virtually in 2020.

The university gave out 838 degrees to 743 people in separate ceremonies for graduate and undergraduate students. Both were held outdoors at the Winkin Sports Complex on campus. About 1,800 students, faculty and audience members attended the ceremonies throughout the day.

With a significant number of adults now vaccinated, but COVID-19 cases remaining relatively high, college officials in Maine and nationwide have deliberated over holding in-person graduation ceremonies. The University of Maine, the only university larger than Husson in the Bangor area, will celebrate its commencement by releasing a pre-recorded video later this month.

Husson was initially going to hold a students-only ceremony but opted to shift to a more conventional commencement after Gov. Janet Mills relaxed outdoor gathering restrictions, university President Robert Clark said in a press release in March.

Clockwise from left: A member of the Anah Highlanders plays the bagpipes at Husson’s graduation ceremony on Saturday; guests of mass communications graduate Anastasia Lemitelamy celebrate Lemitelamy’s name being called; students sit at the ceremony. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

Each graduate was able to invite two guests, who were required to remain masked throughout the ceremony. The university recommended that other guests watch via a stream on the university’s website.

For Victoria Green, 22, a marketing and communications major from Saco, she was happy to have an in-person ceremony at all. It became an added bonus when the university announced in March that guests would be able to come. Both of Green’s parents also attended Husson and went to the ceremony on Saturday.

“I was thankful we were getting this,” Green said. “To be able to be on campus with my friends and parents is amazing.”

Other than the presence of facemasks on students, faculty and family members, the ceremony felt like somewhat of a return to normalcy after a year of anything but. Holding their graduation about two months into the pandemic last year, Husson live streamed a pre-recorded video for its 2020 commencement.

From left: Haylee Williams, 24, a nursing major from Guilford who wore a stethoscope, holds her diploma at Husson’s graduation ceremony; students wave to their family members. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

Haylee Williams, 24, a nursing major from Guilford, said the ceremony had been exhilarating after years of hard work and a particularly tough stretch during the pandemic.

“I’ve been at it for six years, and I’m finally here,” Williams said.

Having worked in a local hospital, Williams has seen the effects of COVID-19 on the Bangor community first-hand. She will continue her medical work as a nurse at a hospital in Newton, North Carolina, having accepted a job offer just a week before graduating.

Speakers included Clark and Husson Board of Trustees Vice Chair Dan Hutchins. University Chaplain Sarah Pringle-Lewis also provided an opening repair. Music, including the playing of the national anthem, was provided by the Anah Highlanders, a Bangor-based drum and bagpipe band.

From left: A student wears a decorated cap at Husson’s graduation ceremony on Saturday; Caitlin Johnson, a communications technology major from Auburn, looks at her diploma after graduating. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

The college awarded an honorary doctorate of business administration to Waldron “Tom” Sawyer, a longtime member of the Husson Board of Trustees who spoke at the graduate student ceremony early in the day. Sawyer has been involved in various business efforts in the Bangor area, including the Pine Tree Landfill in Hampden and has also served as a Bangor city councilor and Republican Maine state senator.

The class had three valedictorians, each of who had 4.0 GPAs: Christine Bratcher of Bucksport, Natalie Rickards from Patten and Ariana Wortman from Oxbow Township in Aroostook County.

It also had four salutatorians with GPAs of 3.992: Andrew Hallinan from Boothbay Harbor; Adam LaFleur from Londonderry, New Hampshire; Alexander Sedore from Ellsworth; and Emma Wallace from Phippsburg.

Graduating undergraduates came from more than 130 Maine communities, 26 different states and several countries.