AUGUSTA — Between the full-body robes, the unusual hats and the often-stuffy venues, sitting through a commencement ceremony can be a challenge for any college student.

But it’s fitting that college, which is a challenging experience from start to finish, would end with one final obstacle, according to Richard Hopper, president of Kennebec Valley Community College.

Hopper offered that piece of wisdom on Saturday morning, as students from the college got ready to receive their diplomas in a packed Augusta Civic Center. He held up a flat, metal plate that he had purchased from Aubuchon Hardware in Augusta and that masons use to hold the mortar they’re working with — the inspiration for the name of the flat caps that many college graduates wear.

“That’s a roundabout way to acknowledge that you’re all wearing traditional academic clothing,” Hopper said, adding that each graduate “has the tools and motivation to succeed.”

In fact, some of the graduates had the literal tools to succeed on their heads. As they do every year, graduates from the college’s electric linework program wore bright yellow hardhats. That gear exemplified the range of offerings at Kennebec Valley Community College, which was praised by numerous speakers at the graduation ceremony, including keynote speaker U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

Besides lineworkers, graduates were also becoming welders, nurses, cooks, mental health practitioners, physical therapists, phlebotomists, pulp and paper workers, teachers, first responders, all of whom can play a role in Maine’s economy.

The graduates let out loud, celebratory whoops as each course of study was named. More than 300 people received a degree or certificate this year, according to programs that were handed out.

The keynote speaker, Poliquin, a Waterville native, spoke of the different industries — health care, manufacturing, construction — that would welcome the new pool of talent coming out of Augusta Saturday morning.

“We need you to grow our economy … We need you to stay here in Maine,” he said, before kiddingly taking a dig at places like Boston and New Jersey that don’t have the wide open outdoors that Maine does. “You can’t go hunting in Boston Common. You can’t go fishing in the pond, and you can’t go snowmobiling under the New Jersey turnpike, but you can do all that in Maine.”

Before the commencement ceremony, a small group stood on Civic Center Drive holding signs protesting Poliquin, especially his recent decision to vote for the American Health Care Act, also known as Trumpcare, which would undo former President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 health care law, the Affordable Care Act.

Poliquin didn’t address those criticisms.

He was effusive in his praise of the Kennebec Valley Community College graduates, giving a particular shout out to those who have pursued a degree while taking care of children, grandchildren or elderly relatives, or after serving the military.

“I’m so proud of you,” he said. “You’ve done what most people don’t even try to do.”

The congressman also encouraged thee graduates to look for employers that will be willing to offer them more training.

“People are hired, in general, not for what you know,” Poliquin said. “It’s what you can learn … These employers want honest, hardworking people. You’re from Maine. You define hard work. You have demonstrated what you can achieve. You have overcome tremendous obstacles, They will see that. They will know that this degree is very valuable.”

John Dalton, president of Inland Hospital in Waterville and chairman of the college’s board of trustees, offered similar praise during his remarks to the graduates Saturday morning. The hospital depends on people with medical training, Dalton said. It also depends on lineworkers.

“There’s going to be a rotten storm next January, where trees go down or someone goes off the road (into a utility pole),” he said. “I won’t be there to say thank you (to the lineworkers) then, so I’ll say it now. I could go on and on, but I hope you get the idea.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

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Twitter: @ceichacker