PITTSFIELD — Norbert W. Young Jr. stood on the stage Sunday to give the keynote address at Maine Central Institute’s 148th commencement exercises, 51 years after he gave the valedictory address at his own graduation from the school.

Young, president of MCI’s Board of Trustees and a successful architect who has spent his career in the designing and construction industry, looked out over a sea of more than 900 faces, 110 of which were those of graduating seniors.

He recalled giving his speech to fellow seniors in 1966 and being very anxious about the future, and of going off to college. He wondered aloud Sunday if students in the Class of 2017 felt the same way.

Then, Young sought to allay their fears. He said he discovered something remarkable after he enrolled in college and moved forward in his life: that what he had learned and experienced at MCI served as a great foundation for him. Thanks to his teachers, he was prodded, challenged, nurtured and occasionally rewarded, which helped pave the way for his long and fortunate career.

“Believe me, without the foundation I received here at MCI, none of these would have been possible — none without MCI,” Young said.

When Young graduated from MCI, his father was a beloved teacher and coach, according to MCI Headmaster Christopher Hopkins. Hopkins said Young, who lives most of the time in New York City but also spends part of the year in Maine, has served tirelessly as trustee president. He has sacrificed his time to serve the school, with his only compensation the pride and sense of contribution he gives in service to the institution, according to Hopkins.

Young asked each senior to find time to draw on his or her own strong MCI foundation in the future. He left the students with one last thought from Yogi Berra:

“‘When you come to a fork in the road, take it,'” he said.

MCI enrolls students from all over the world and is the secondary school for School Administrative District 53, which includes the towns of Pittsfield, Burnham and Detroit.

Brayden Harvey Rollins, valedictorian of the Class of 2017, told the crowd Sunday in Wright Gymnasium that the class is unique compared to graduating classes of the past. He spoke of entering MCI four years ago, an insecure, shy freshman who never imagined he would succeed in high school, let alone be standing on the stage at graduation, giving a speech.

But he changed over the four years, which led him to become a confident senior, he said. Teachers, including Johnny Buys, who teaches English and film, helped him to discover his interests.

“Mr. Buys was able to fuel a fire in me and I will always be sure to go and find my fire every day,” Rollins said.

Rollins said that as he progressed at MCI, fellow students became friends and he gained more and more confidence. The sense of friendship and companionship in the class of 2017 sets the class apart from others, according to Rollins.

“We as a class have made a mark through our companionship with one another,” he said.

As seniors lined up outside the gymnasium before marching in to “Pomp and Circumstance,” performed on keyboard by Gerry Wright, they spoke of their experiences at MCI.

Clark Zhang, 19, of Shanghai, China, said that coming from a city, it was different being in a rural setting but he enjoyed the environment, including the clean air.

He also appreciated his teachers, who helped him to become a critical thinker, and the way people in the U.S. encourage youth to pursue their dreams. Zhang said he would be leaving today for China to spend time with his family and then attend SUNY Buffalo, where he plans to study math. Later on he hopes to get a job in the U.S.

“I may study computer science later — it depends on how I do on my AP exam,” he said.

Longtime friends Jack Reed of Pittsfield, and Chelsea Lydem of Burnham, both 18, said they were excited to be graduating, and a little nervous. Lydem said she will attend University of Maine, Augusta, to study to become a veterinary technician. From November to March, she volunteered at Timberland Animal Hospital in Orono to see what the job would be like.

“I can’t wait — I’m excited,” she said. “I came to MCI my junior year from Mount View (High School). All my teachers were awesome here. They really prepare you for everything.”

Reed said he will continue working at his job at Wal-Mart for a while and then hopes to attend Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield to study business management and marketing. MCI prepared him well for that, he said.

“I’m really honored to have gone to this school,” he said. “The atmosphere and the community are so wonderful here and the teachers and the students really care about you.”

Reed said he hopes to move out of state after college and own or manage a business.

“This is home and I love my home but I really do feel like I have to close that chapter of my life and move on,” he said. “But I will come back.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17