AUGUSTA — Family, friends and supporters filled the Augusta Civic Center bleachers Saturday morning to watch around 400 University of Maine at Augusta graduates accept their degrees.

Graduate Elora Hixon, 23, led the procession into the gymnasium, holding a ceremonial wooden mace and wearing a cap with “#9″ — her soccer number in high school and college — written on the top.

Hixon, of Richmond, was president of the student body on the Augusta campus and chairwoman of General Assembly — the student government for the entire college.

“I loved it,” Hixon said of her experience at UMA. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Hixon, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, said she applied to Plymouth State University for its master of business administration small business program. She plans to use the MBA to work for her father’s electrical company in Richmond.

UMA President Allyson Handley said she’s seen an increase in students going on to graduate school, like Hixon, after earning bachelor’s degrees at UMA.

Dean of Students Kathleen Dexter said some students who planned to get only associate degrees when they started now are going on to graduate school.

“Their idea of where they’re going changes quite a bit by the time they’re marching,” Dexter said.

Handley said she feels sentimental about this graduating class because many of the traditional-age students started when she became president five years ago.

Sarah Therrien, who graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in social science, was the student commencement speaker Saturday. She spoke about the importance of community and how helping others can lead to happiness and a stronger community.

Therrien said she felt less isolated after becoming more involved at school with things such as the university community garden.

“We cant let our barriers stop us,” she said. “If we did, nothing would ever improve.”

The commencement speaker, Paul Doiron, editor-in-chief of Down East magazine, related his experience as writer to life lessons for graduates.

Doiron, also the author of an award-winning mystery series about a Maine game warden, extolled the importance of researching a job before going to an interview, as an author would research a subject before writing.

He also told students not to fearrejection and to finish what they start.

As an example, he told how the staff at Down East Magazine always wants to find ways improve each issue before it’s sent to the printers.

“At some point it needs to ship,” Doiron said. “The same is true for life. Done is better than perfect.”

Often, not finishing something is an excuse to avoid failure, he said.

“You’re sitting here because you did it,” Doiron told students. “Congratulations and godspeed.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
pkoenig@mainetoday.com