Office of Public Affairs

Senator Olympia J. Snowe Presented Commencement Address to Over 1,000 University of Southern Maine Graduates

LAC Student with decorated mortarboard.

U.S Senator Olympia J. Snowe told USM graduates, “…never forget that our most pressing problems in all spheres of life can be surmountable, if we refuse to be intractable.”

Snowe gave her final commencement address as a U.S. senator at USM’s 132nd commencement, held Saturday, May 12 before a packed house at the Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland.

She called for a “…commitment to solving problems rather than perpetuating political absolutes – the kind of absolutes so prevalent today that drive the political wedges that stand between us, and our ability to achieve great things during this consequential moment in the life of our nation.”  Snowe emphasized that, “…the political polarization can be diminished over the long term, which is why I will continue to work to change the system, only now from outside of the Senate.” 

“However,” she added, “that change will only occur when Americans support and vote for individuals who will follow the principles of consensus building – so I intend to speak out to encourage this kind of political reward at the ballot box, and give voice to those who believe as I do that we can and must return to civility in government, driven by a common purpose to work together to fulfill the promise that is unique to America.”  

Snowe was presented with an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.  In conferring the honorary degree, USM President Selma Botman noted Snowe’s “…passionate commitment to public service, a long career dedicated to the highest ethical conduct of our state’s and our nation’s governance, and her principled approach to leadership.”

Student commencement speaker Amanda Jennifer Pleau, a graduate of Lewiston High School, credited USM with providing her a place in which to learn and grow. While acknowledging USM as a microcosm of the current national political scene, she concluded, “We know USM is the best University in the system. We know first hand what USM has is advantageous and we should make sure everyone else does, too.” During her time at USM, Pleau served as an intern in the USM Office of Public Affairs, was a volunteer and intern at Dress for Success Maine, a columnist for USM’s student newspaper, The Free Press, and is currently a board member and volunteer for the Community Television Network. Recently, she was hired by Tom’s of Maine.

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees and Distinguished Achievement Awards were presented during the ceremony. Senator Snowe received an honorary doctorate in recognition of her passionate commitment to public service. Author Dr. Michael LaCome of Augusta, who practices medicine in the Cardiology Division of Maine General Medical Center, Augusta, received an honorary doctorate in recognition for his work in both the fields of medicine and the humanities. Kate Cheney Chappell (’83) and Thomas Chappell of Kennebunk, co-founders of Tom’s of Maine, received honorary degrees in recognition of their societal impact on behalf of environmental ethics and entrepreneurship.

Andy Graham (’77, ’08) of Portland and founder of Portland Color was presented a Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his efforts to expand the arts in Portland and Maine. Hannah Holmes (’88) of South Portland, a science writer and author of four books, received a Distinguished Achievement Award for her pursuit of new knowledge and understanding of the world around us.

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: Richard A. Barringer, professor emeritus of community planning and development, Muskie School; Carol Lynn Davis, associate professor emerita in the School of Education and Human Development; Michael S. Hamilton, professor emeritus of political science, College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; Elizabeth H. Kilbreth, associate research professor emerita in the Muskie School; Robert M. Schaible, professor emeritus of arts and humanities, Lewiston-Auburn College; and William “Bumper” White, associate professor emeritus, Lewiston-Auburn College.

Many members of USM’s class of 2012 have overcome personal hardships or illustrate the importance of getting involved during their college career. Here are a few of their stories:

Hayato Wakatsuki, a Japanese geography-anthropology student, received his bachelor’s degree with his 100-year-old grandfather and other family members from Japan in attendance. He left USM after the 2011 earthquake, but returned last fall to complete his degree. He will return to Japan to help contribute to his country’s reconstruction efforts.

Joanie Grondin of Windham, is a non-traditional age, deaf School of Nursing graduate with two young children. She says her experience as a deaf student and mother has been challenging, “but it has been one that’s been positively life changing.” She is pursuing a career in nursing, hopefully in a facility specializing in serving the deaf.

Senior Husky Achievement Award winner Christopher MacDonald of Saco served as a resident assistant, a mentor with STRIVE U and the Big Brothers Big Sisters, a participant in Relay for Life, a member of Students in Free Enterprise and as both an admissions student ambassador and a student success peer advisor. He received a B.S. in general management, with a focus in small business and entrepreneurship.

Dianna Walters brings first-hand experience to the topic of her dissertation project, “Adolescent Well-Being: Supporting Successful Paths to Adulthood for Young People in Foster Care.” Walters says growing up she didn’t stay in one area long enough to be able to claim a hometown, but considers the Lewiston-Auburn area home. Beginning at age 16, she worked closely with the Maine Youth Leadership Advisory Team, and aged out of Maine’s foster care system at age 18. She also served as a Foster Youth Intern for Senator John Kerry, raising awareness of critical issues facing foster youth and informing policy on both a state and national level. Walters joined Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative in St. Louis as a policy associate in 2011 and serves as a congressional liaison for the organization. She is earned a master’s in public policy, with honors, from the Muskie School of Public Service. Before joining the Muskie School, Walters earned her associate’s degree in liberal arts from Central Maine Technical College and a bachelor’s degree in social and behavioral sciences from USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College.

Pamela Otunnu Porensky of Scarborough is the recipient of a 2012 Woodrow Wilson-Rockefeller Brothers Fund (WW-RBF) Fellowship for Aspiring Teachers of Color. Originally from Uganda, Porensky’s award allows her to pursue a master’s in education from USM. Porensky received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing.

For more complete information on these graduates, visit our newsroom