Office of Public Affairs

U.S. Sen. Angus King helps USM celebrate graduating veterans

Sen. Angus King honors graduating veterans

The University of Southern Maine celebrated our extraordinary graduating veterans May 3rd with a medal ceremony and a keynote speech by U.S. Sen. Angus King.

“You honored our country every day by your service, and I know that you’re going to continue to do so,” said King, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former Maine governor.

His remarks came amid an hour-long ceremony the began with the National Anthem and was punctuated with hugs and handshakes.

“Take more risks,” King counseled the graduates. “Underpromise and overdeliver” in your new careers. “Value your family and friends.”

Alongside Adria Horne, the director of the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services, Nancy Griffin, USM's vice president for Enrollment Management & Student Affairs and Lorraine Spaulding, USM's coordinator of Veterans Services, King presented medals to 23 graduates. In all, 53 veterans will graduate this spring. All were invited.

For some, the intimate ceremony on the seventh floor of Portland’s Glickman Library is more comfortable than the numbers of graduates who will fill the arena on Commencement morning.

For Chris Wagner (pictured at left), a 57-year-old Army veteran who spent a career as a civil servant, the event marked the start of a new career and a plea. He has earned a bachelor’s degree in communication and media studies. Though he has retired from full-time work, he hopes to land a part-time job with a nonprofit organization.

“I have more to do,” he said. “I have more to contribute.” At the podium, he described federal programs that help employers hire veterans.

Among the other medalists were Richard Mariello, an Army veteran who is graduated with a history degree. He was accompanied by his service dog, Charlie (in the photo).

Maine Army National Guard veteran San Pao picked up his medal as his wife and children, 10 and 5, watched and cheered.

Earlier, Pao earned bachelor degrees in management and marketing. This time, he earned a master’s degree in Social Work.

“One of my main goals is to become a consultant for firms and the corporate world to help them hire veterans," he said. "The other goal is to work with veterans in a private practice setting to get them back to a baseline that they can handle. Furthermore, I’d like to change the thought-process on post-traumatic stress disorder, because when someone hears PTSD, they see a broken veteran.”

They’re not broken, he said. Far from it.

“I am going to change that script,” he said.

Office of Public Affairs / photos and story by Daniel Hartill