The University of Southern Maine celebrated its 139th Commencement Ceremony on Saturday with more than 900 graduate and undergraduate students marching across the Cross Insurance Arena stage following remarks by Maine Governor Janet Mills.
Mills encouraged graduates to embrace their new Made in Maine status and to be open to the twists and turns of lives and careers.
"You should be exceptionally proud to be graduates of this place," Mills said. "You should be proud of Maine, because Maine is proud of you. There's a world of opportunity right here. We want you here."
Governor Mills challenged graduates to improve the state just as she challenges herself.
"I hope that we both leave a cleaner planet, a good economy, affordable health care, educational opportunities and a lot of love for each other."
The governor's keynote speech followed a stirring address by student speaker Yanina Nickless, who talked about how her college education was interrupted by the 2014 revolution in Ukraine and how she found a new home at the university.
"USM is a school of life," Nickless said. "It is a place, where you see a single parent of three children, and know they are here because it is the best thing they can do for their family. It is a place where our classmates are people that try to combine full-time jobs with full-time school schedules.
"It is a place of true diversity, where you can learn from veterans, immigrants, retired couples through their experiences," Nickless continued. "It is a place where my dear Political Science professors taught me that it is ok to be different and that words can be so much more powerful than any weapon in the world. It is a place where I found myself and learned that my past made me who I am, but USM shaped it into a powerful force that can inspire changes."
USM President Glenn Cummings conferred an honorary degree on Michael "Micky" Collins, Ph.D.
An internationally renowned expert in sports-related concussion, Collins graduated from USM in 1991, earning his bachelor's degree in psychology and biology before going on to earn master's and doctoral degrees from Michigan State University.
"Micky found a way to combine his love of sports and studying the brain into a trailblazing career," President Cummings said. "In 2000, he was a founding member of the University of Pittsburgh Sports Medicine Concussion Program, where he now serves as director. The UPMC concussion program is the first and largest research and clinical program focused on the diagnosis, evaluation and management of sports-related mild traumatic brain injury in athletes of all levels, from high school students to elite professionals athletes."
President Cummings announced tat Collins is scheduled to return to USM in September for a presentation with one of his former patients, race car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Media also told stories on several graduates including, WCSH-TV's "207" show on Regan Thibodeau, a deaf woman who became the first native Mainer to earn a Ph. D., the Sun Journal on mother-daughter duo, Cathy and Bronwyn Gray, and a piece that ran in several papers including the Portland Press Herald on 18-year-old graduate Sam Matey, who will use his environmental science degree to join lemur researchers in Madagascar.
The ceremony capped off a week of celebrations, such as the Nurse Pinning Ceremony, the Intercultural Student Graduation, Veterans Graduation Recognition Ceremony and more.
At the Class of 2019 President's Champagne Reception, special recognition was given to the Class members who donated towards the "Pay it Forward" campaign that raised money for the Student Emergency Fund. Students who donated more than $20.19 were given a special green cord to wear at Commencement, Martin's Point Health Care awarded their generous contribution of $20,000 with a giant check, and because the students raised more than double the original amount of $2,019, President Cummings allowed three of the campaign's student leaders to spray paint his hair USM Husky blue and gold. Said Kayla Griffis, a graduating senior and a member of the Class of 2019 Class Gift Committee, “Our sincere thanks to everyone who responded to the call for donations to help ensure USM students can stay in school, get their degrees and live their dreams."