KENTS HILL — Just minutes before he graduated from Kents Hill School, Zach Boylan struggled to express what the experience has meant to him.

“It means a lot,” he said as his classmates posed for pictures. “It’s really hard to put into words.”

Boylan, 18, of Belgrade, was one of 66 students to graduate from the private preparatory school Saturday, a class that featured students from seven countries and 13 Maine communities. Parents, friends and relatives gathered on the school quadrangle as bagpipers led the students in — girls in white dresses first, followed by boys in blue blazers, then the faculty.

Student Body President Brandon Bourgeois, of the Canadian province of New Brunswick, told the crowd that he and his classmates have grown from “awkward young teens” to scholars who will go on to be doctors, lawyers, politicians and actors. He thanked the teachers who often served as surrogate parents.

“There isn’t a better environment to develop a young mind than right here,” he said.

He also encouraged his peers to “find your passion in life and stick to it.”

“Don’t go into a certain field just because there’s a lot of money,” he said. “Know at the end of the day, you can be proud of what you do.”

Head of School D. Jeremy LaCasse said the students exemplify the school’s mission, which is “that one man or woman of principle can always make a difference.” The school, founded in 1824, held its 188th commencement on a cloudy day. Students from Readfield and Manchester graduated alongside those from Canada, Sweden, China and Japan.

Commencement Speaker Audrey Butvay Gruss, founder of the Hope for Depression Research Foundation, told the students that they shouldn’t be afraid to try many new things.

“Enjoy the process of discovery,” she said. “Be a sponge and absorb everything.”

After receiving their diplomas, the students briefly donned their caps, then tossed them into the air when LaCasse officially presented them as the class of 2012.

Lauren Farnsworth, also from New Brunswick, said she knows she’ll miss the Kents Hill community and her friends. She’s heading to the University of New Brunswick and hopes to become a kindergarten teacher.

“I’m really scared,” she said. “I’m scared to leave high school. I’ve been here four years.”

Boylan said he’s looking forward to hiking Mount Katahdin with his family before he heads off to Vassar College, where he may double-major in biology and drama.

“I’ve grown up a lot,” he said. “I’m moving on.”

Susan Cover — 621-5643

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