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Linda Greenlaw Presents University of Southern Maine Commencement Address to Nearly 1,000 Graduates

Serena Dawn Gosbee and Linda Greenlaw

Isle au Haut resident, best-selling author and swordfishing captain Linda Greenlaw told graduates to ignore the “man-made barriers of race, religion, gender and sexual preference” during her University of Southern Maine commencement address. She received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at the ceremony in recognition of her contributions to the cultural heritage of Maine.  

An admittedly nervous Greenlaw spoke from notes, and joked with the ASL interpreter, asking her what the sign is for “holy s__t.” Greenlaw addressed the nearly 1000 USM graduates in ceremonies taking place Saturday, May 14, in the Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland. She shared with the audience her mother’s worst advise: that she was wasting her education working as a commercial fisherman, and her mother’s best advise: that she could be whatever she wanted to be. Telling graduates, “Your education can never be wasted. It becomes you, it cannot be taken away.” Greenlaw concluded her address by saying she is “most proud of being a fisherman.”

Student commencement speaker Serena Dawn Gosbee of Sebago, Maine, spoke about attending her late father’s USM commencement six years ago, and the tedium of watching almost 1,000 graduates march across the stage, clapping for each one. Speaking of graduates whose family members were unable to attend the ceremony, she urged her classmates and the audience to share in the accomplishments of all today’s graduates by clapping for each friend and stranger who received a degree. Gosbee was inducted into the Golden Key International Honour Society and the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, as well as being named the Outstanding Senior in Communication Award.

National Public Radio’s Carl Kasell of Washington D. C. received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in recognition of his contributions to public radio. A newscaster for NPR’s “Morning Edition” for 30 years, he currently is the judge and scorekeeper for the weekly NPR news quiz show “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” Dona D. Vaughn, artistic director of Portland’s PORTopera received an honorary Doctor of Music, in recognition of her contributions to the cultural vitality of the region and her remarkable career in performance, directing, teaching and encouraging new talent.

Distinguished Achievement Awards were presented to USM alumnus Robert S. Blackwood Jr. of South Portland in recognition of his tireless support to the University. Everett “Brownie” Carson of Brunswick received a Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his guiding the Natural Resources Council of Maine as it inspired and mobilized Mainers to speak out for the environment. Another USM alumnus, Nathan M. Nickerson of Portland, was presented a Distinguished Achievement Award for his work in public health organizations and as executive director of Konbit Sante, a local volunteer organization partnering with the northern Haitian health system.

USM President Selma Botman recognized the achievements of graduates, the support of family and friends, and the contributions of faculty, including those named emeriti faculty for exemplary teaching, research and public service.

Retired faculty honored with emeriti status were: Maurice Chabot, associate professor emeritus of mathematics and statistics; Joseph A. Conforti, distinguished professor emeritus of American and New England Studies; Phyllis Foster Healy, associate professor emerita of nursing; Joel W. Irish, associate professor emeritus of mathematics and statistics; William H. Moore, associate professor emeritus of technology; and Stephen T. Murphy, professor emeritus of counselor education.

USM commencement ceremonies are often family affairs and this one was no exception. Along with student commencement speaker Serena Dawn Gosbee, the daughter of two USM alumni, were mother and daughter graduates Deborah and Adrienne Briskey, of Westbrook and Pittsburgh, Penn. respectively, who both earned master’s degrees in American and New England Studies. Another mother and daughter team, Diana and Katie Jannelle of Saco, marched together, receiving bachelor’s degrees in nursing and geography/anthropology. Diana began work on her bachelor’s when Katie was in middle school. Husband and wife, Nick Viti and Erin Masterson of South Portland both earned master’s of occupational therapy degrees through USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College.

Other interesting graduates were:

  • Sarah Buhno of Northwood, New Hampshire received the Senior Husky Achievement Award in recognition of her many campus activities. She is a recent inductee into the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in economics.
  • Scott Thurston of Chelsea first crossed the commencement stage 53 years ago when his mother received her teaching degree while pregnant with him. Promising her he’d graduate from her alma mater, Thurston returned to USM after dropping out in the 1970s to earn a degree in geography.
  • Single mother of seven, Kelly Akerley of North Bridgton took 12 years to earn her B.S. degree in health sciences, juggling the special needs of one of her children and her own hearing impairment.
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo immigrant Maxwell Chikuta of Portland arrived in Maine with his wife in 2002 and has since received his GED, an A.S. from SMCC, a B.S. from USM and now a master’s degree in public policy and management. The father of four also volunteers at several Maine organizations.
  • Mexico’s Jillian Olivares Weil arrived in Cumberland as a cultural au pair. The family she worked for convinced her to apply to college allowing her to live with them while she attended college earning a bachelor’s in media studies.
  • Australia’s Christopher Waltham followed his wife Tracey Toner from the Republic of Mali to her home state of Maine, where they now reside in Portland. She received a master’s in nursing last year from USM, while Waltham graduated with honors this year, earning a B.A. in political science and economics.