WATERVILLE — Thomas College graduated about 225 students, its largest graduating class ever, on Saturday afternoon.

Among them was Tanya Naborowsky, who spoke on behalf of the evening division of undergraduate students during the commencement ceremony in the Field House at the campus on West River Road.

Naborowsky, who lives in Vassalboro, is a manager at Shaw’s supermarket in Waterville and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration this year.

Naborowsky became pregnant when she was 16, and since then has focused on getting the things she needed to support herself and her daughter, she said.

“Without public assistance I never would’ve been able to graduate from high school,” she said. “But that experience made me realize that I needed to provide those opportunities for my daughter on my own.”

With encouragement from a best friend, she got a job at Shaw’s and worked up the ranks to a full-time employee and then manager. She enrolled at Thomas College in 2012 to move even further ahead in her career.

“I had been told one too many times that I needed a degree in order to advance my career, and I vowed that I would never let that be an excuse again,” she said.

Naborowsky credits much of the success of her journey to her professors and other college staff who helped her along the way.

“They showed me how to be a student and they let me be in charge of my journey,” she said.

Once she arrived at Thomas, she took a writing course, and remembered “a dream I had forgotten,” she said.

A dean and professor at the college worked to get Naborowsky a mentor — Shonna Milliken Humphrey, a Maine author who has also written for The New York Times, The Atlantic and Down East, among other publications.

The two learned they share a birthday, and then Naborowsky learned they had another common tie when she heard Humphrey’s latest book, “Dirt Roads and Diner Pie,” which is a memoir about her husband’s past experiences of sex abuse as a child.

Naborowsky said she was a victim of sexual abuse as well.

“As most victims, I was silenced by my shame and my fear of judgment,” she said.

But, inspired by her mentors, Naborowsky traveled to Guatemala in January and enrolled in a writing seminar held by Joyce Maynard “to learn how to tell my story.”

This experience was “another example of how much Thomas College has changed me,” she said.

“Who would imagine that the girl who became a mother at 16 would be standing here today, graduating with honors,” she added, choking back tears as everyone in the Field House stood and clapped.

Naborowsky thanked the faculty at Thomas and her friends and family before stepping down.

“This is the power of a Thomas education,” said President Laurie Lachance.

Commencement speaker Dick Whitmore told the class of 2017 that “all kinds of emotions are going to come up” throughout the day, but that gratefulness for that education is the most important.

“The most important part of the celebration is to be able to put into picture number one, the thank you that is so vital,” Whitmore said. “(…) So as you look back through the thank yous that you are going to give for your successes and for you to be where you are, I think the salute of major importance is going to be to the faculty who have guided you through the past years.”

Whitmore, who is a sports management instructor at the college and has won college coach of the year in Maine six times, received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Thomas at the ceremony.

“One of the great stats, in my lifetime, is that I had three jobs in my adult lifetime,” he said. “What I don’t say all the time is that I was three for 23. You’re gonna meet that kind of situation as you go through the next few years.”

Whitmore encouraged students to persevere and find their passion, though.

“At some point, you’re going to get a burn inside you. And you’re going to say this is it, this is what I can do, what I want to do, and what I will do. The ‘will do’ is very important,” he said. “(…) What you’re always going to have, is you’re always going to have the imprint of Thomas College on your soul.”

Shelby Watson, of Skowhegan, spoke for the day division of the undergraduate class.

Watson, who graduated in December with a bachelor’s in management, said her wish was that her classmates “can find balance in their lives.”

“You are a collective of every experience you have had in life,” she said. “Now go out and create something.”

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

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Twitter: @madelinestamour