FARMINGTON — More than a century ago, a University of Maine at Farmington student unwittingly wrote the motto for the school’s 150th anniversary celebration.

It was 1902 and Grace Louise Griffith, then 19, of Brownville, was trying to persuade other students about a class gift for the college, said President Kathryn Foster during Wednesday’s Charter Day event.

Griffith argued to her classmates that they should chose a maple tree as the species it would plant as a class gift, Foster said.

Her words for the first public institution of high education in Maine, Foster said, are just as apt now as then: firmly may it stand, well may it thrive.

“Just a common tree that claims this as its native soil,” Foster said, reading from Griffith’s writing. “The maple will take its place among the trees of larger growth, even as we soon are to take our places among those of fuller knowledge and riper experience. Firmly may it stand and well may it thrive.”

Those words still apply to the school today Foster told a crowd of about 100 students, faculty and area residents.

“Over a century later we adopt Grace’s encouragement as the inspiration for our dear college, our vibrant community and our commitment to public higher education,” she said.

Before Foster’s address, local and state officials congratulated the university Wednesday afternoon during the school’s Charter Day ceremony.

The school was first established as the Western State Normal School by the Maine State Legislature on Oct. 9, 1863. The school went through several name changes over the past 150 years, changing from a teaching school to a liberal arts college and in 1971 becoming the University of Maine at Farmington.

Gov. Paul LePage told the crowd of about 100 that one of the important things the university does for the state is that it puts students first, and prepares them for life after graduation.

“It’s not only about providing academics. It’s about providing mentoring to our kids. It’s about teaching them life skills and leadership skills while they learn their academics,” he said.

He noted the university has been regularly recognized for its achievements and four of the last six Maine Teachers of the Year are UMF graduates.

The 2009 winner, Gloria Noyes, Congin Elementary School in Westbrook, graduated in 1993. Kevin Grover, D.W. Lunt Elementary School, Falmouth, a 1995 graduate, won in 2010. Shelly Moody, Williams Elementary School, Oakland, a 1998 graduate, won in 2011. Shannon Shanning, Bruce M. Whiattier Middle School, Poland, a 2000 graduate, won in 2013.

The university, he said, not only has a history of providing high-quality education, but has a history of providing education at a fair price.

Along with LePage, speakers at the event included Carlene Tremblay, state office representative for Sen. Susan Collins; state Sen. Tom Saviello; Ryan Low, University of Maine System executive director of governmental and external affairs; Paul Mills, Farmington attorney and local historian; and Gerald Cayer, executive vice president of the Franklin Community Health Network.

Mills reviewed the school’s history and said UMF almost shared with Hampden the title of first place of public higher education in the state. There were going to be two schools chartered simultaneously, one in the west and one in the eastern part of the state.

Hampden’s request was denied by the committee set up to declare which towns would hold the new schools, so Farmington’s normal school became the first place of public higher education in the state.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252
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