USM celebrates 142nd Commencement with return to in-person celebration

The University of Southern Maine celebrated its 142nd Commencement Ceremony on Saturday with more than 900 graduate and undergraduate students marching across the Cross Insurance Arena stage, marking the university’s first in-person commencement in three years.

Speakers included Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and departing USM President Glenn Cummings. Honorary degrees were conferred to Dr. Shah, poet Betsy Sholl and philanthropist Dan Crewe.

Masked students wearing their graduation gowns wait in line to receive their diplomas.

“It is amazing to see the civic center full of people,” Cummings told the crowd of 7,000 family and friends. “You deserve to be together.” Attendees were required to be masked and show proof of either a vaccination or a negative COVID test.

Shah, who has led Maine’s fight against the pandemic, gave a lighthearted speech that looked at finding joy in a career, having the courage of convictions and the value of hard work. He surveyed attendees, teased past commencement speeches and gave a few serious comments.

He told graduates to consider taking hard jobs because they can create opportunities and to surround themselves with people who are smart and optimistic.

“Half or perhaps two-thirds of your college years were surrounded by COVID. That sucks,” Shah said. ”I want you to know that you can do those hard things because you already have.”

Cummings, who will leave the university at the end of June, made a sometimes emotional address, thanking students, faculty and staff.

“This has been one of the biggest honors of my life to be with you,” he said.

He talked of faculty faith — “You assured me and you inspired me” — of staff members’ “ceaseless positivity,” and of the new graduates’ accomplishment that can never be taken away.

“The degree you receive today will always be a statement of who you are in the best possible way,” Cummings said.

New York City native Sophie Garner served as the student speaker, talking about her own challenges as a young person, her choice to enroll at USM and her appreciation of her professors and fellow students.

“I was able to realize my potential and understand that terrifying risks are often the most rewarding,” Garner said. “Don’t fear the difficult parts of your journey that will undoubtedly transpire.”

Saturday’s events followed a Friday celebration for graduates from the previous two years, giving them the opportunity to cross the commencement stage.

Glenn Cummings speaks at Commencement.

Glenn Cummings Ed.D.
Dr. Glenn Cummings began his academic career in Gorham, ME as a high school history teacher and department head. He served as a faculty member at the Southern Maine Community College and was a long-serving member of the USM faculty, most recently as an assistant professor of Educational Leadership, teaching in the masters and doctoral degree programs. Prior to becoming President of USM, Dr. Cummings served President Obama as Deputy Assistant Secretary within the U.S. Department of Education, President and Executive Director of Good Will-Hinckley organization, and as Interim President of the University of Maine at Augusta. Dr. Cummings is a former Speaker of the House in the Maine House of Representatives, Majority Leader, and Chairman of the state’s Joint Committee of Education and Cultural Affairs.

Sophie Garner ‘22 — Student Speaker
Sophia Garner, who will be graduating with her degree in Political Science, will deliver the student address at the commencement celebration. Garner’s personal speech was chosen from among more than 20 exemplary entries. Garner grew up in New York City and when she was 16 her father left the United States to return to his native United Kingdom. Garner later attended Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, New York, where she earned her associate degree in International Studies before enrolling in the baccalaureate program at USM in the fall of 2020. Last year, Garner received her dual citizenship as a citizen of both countries. “I’ve certainly been through a lot,” Garner said. “I have reached a point in my life where I have realized that it’s OK that I am not following the exact path that was expected of me. I think all of us in the last few years have followed a path that’s different from the one that we expected.” Following graduation, Garner intends to pursue a law degree.

Nirav D. Shah speaks at Commencement.

Nirav D. Shah, M.D., J.D., Director, Maine CDC
In June 2019, Nirav Shah, MD, JD, was appointed as the Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC). Dr. Shah comes to Maine CDC with broad experience in public health, most recently as Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health
As an attorney and public health economist, Shah previously advised professionals and governments around the nation and globe on improving the delivery of health care. Earlier in his career, he worked for the Ministry of Health in Cambodia, where his work included investigating and managing disease outbreaks as an epidemiologist.
Shah received both medical and law degrees from the University of Chicago. He also studied economics at Oxford University.

Betsy Scholl
Betsy Sholl’s tenth collection of poetry, As If a Song Could Save You, will be published by the University of Wisconsin Press in the fall of 2022. Her ninth collection of poetry is House of Sparrows: New and Selected Poems (University of Wisconsin Press, 2019), winner of the Four Lakes Prize. Her eighth collection, Otherwise Unseeable (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), won the 2015 Maine Book Award for Poetry. Her previous volumes include Rough Cradle (Alice James Books, 2009) and Late Psalm (University of Wisconsin, 2004). Don’t Explain won the 1997 Felix Pollak Prize from the University of Wisconsin, and The Red Line (University of Pittsburgh Press) won the 1991 AWP Prize for Poetry. She is a founding member of Alice James Books and published three earlier collections with them. Among her other awards are a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts, and two Maine Writer’s Fellowships, and the 2020 Maine Literary Award for Distinguished Achievement.

A close-up on a student's graduation cap, where the cap reads, "Life's a garden - dig it."

Her work has been published in many anthologies, including Letters to America, Contemporary American Poetry on Race, Best American Poetry and Best Spiritual Writing, and a range of literary journals, including Plume, Brilliant Corners, Field, On the Seawall and Image. She has taught in a range of institutions, from elementary schools to prisons to MIT, and for thirty years at the University of Southern Maine. She was visiting poet at the University of Pittsburgh and Bucknell University, and currently teaches in the MFA in Writing Program of Vermont College of Fine Arts. She served as Poet Laureate of Maine from 2006 to 2011.

Daniel Crewe
Chair, USM Foundation
Campaign Committee Chair, Great University Campaign
President & Chairman, The Bob Crewe Foundation

Along with his daughter, Reid Crewe, Dan leads the Bob Crewe Foundation, an organization committed to supporting Maine’s youth, the arts, and LGBTQ initiatives. A passionate humanitarian and philanthropist, Dan is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and former Captain in the U.S. Air Force. He spent many years in the music business in partnership with his late brother, Bob Crewe, a well-known songwriter, and record producer, who wrote many songs for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Two masked students in their graduation robes pose for the camera behind the scenes.

Dan has been involved in a number of community organizations including the Equity Institute of Maine, the Susan Curtis Foundation, and the Breakwater School. In honor of his daughter, Jessie Bullens-Crewe, who passed away from complications due to fourth-stage Hodgkin’s disease, Crewe created the Jessie B-C Fund to support the Maine Children’s Cancer Program and the Jessie Bullens-Crewe Nature Preserve in Cumberland.

In addition to serving for nearly 12 years on the MECA Board of Trustees, Dan is President of the ACLU of Maine, Chair of the USM Foundation, Campaign Chair for USM’s Great University Campaign, and Trustee of the Portland Symphony Orchestra. Dan’s leadership in the arts, education, and human rights have had an enormous impact on the lives of countless Mainers.