AUGUSTA — Even as family members streamed into the Augusta Civic Center on Thursday night, members of the Messalonskee High School class of 2017 milled around outside, waiting to line up to march into the main auditorium for their commencement ceremony, some 1,381 days after they started as freshmen.

That was the count offered by valedictorian Fern Calkins in her speech to the class and cheering crowd.

Calkins urged her fellow graduates to embrace change while remembering the past, saying, “I encourage you all to find someone or something that motivates you.”

Calkins said she took her inspiration from Cassidy Charette.

Calkins said Charette was the reason she joined Big Brothers/Big Sisters and returned to playing soccer — something she intends to continue in college.

Charette was a junior at Messalonskee when she was killed in a hayride accident in October 2014 in Mechanic Falls. On Thursday, many of the graduates’ gowns were adorned with pins bearing an image of Charette in her Eagles soccer uniform.

Salutatorian Francesco Vann Guarnieri gave practical advice: “First, work hard. … Secondly, do the things that make you happy. … By working hard at doing things you love, you will achieve your goals; and in doing so, you will be your best self.”

Kayla Marie Veilluex, who was pushed into the auditorium in her wheelchair, walked onto the stage to receive her diploma and was escorted down the stairs by Principal Paula Callan.

Veilleux said earlier she intended to stay at home after high school to help her mother, Venita, who is disabled, while her father, Robert, works at Trafton Road Redemption.

Sue Bradshaw, counselor at Messalonskee Middle School, came over to offer her a hug and congratulations prior to the ceremony.

Kyra Kaherl decorated the top of her red mortarboard with hundreds of small gems she had bought at Walmart. They spelled out her name as well. “It took me two and a half hours,” she said. Kaherl said she plans to go to Kennebec Valley Community College and later to the University of Maine at Farmington to study secondary-school education.

Dylan Gagne, student body president, and Nathan Violette, executive secretary, gathered with other friends as they awaited the signal to get in line.

Gagne said his role was to “basically act as a spokesperson for all four classes.” He’s heading to the University of Connecticut to study pre-law.

Violette said he plans to attend the University of Maine at Farmington for pre-medical studies.

Mike Hippler’s family, including younger brother Jacob Robinson, surrounded him to offer best wishes. He’s going to Kennebec Valley Community College and then to the University of Maine, in Orono, to study plant biology. Hippler said he likes to grow “everything — corn, food, things for me to eat.”

Amy LaVerdiere posed for photos with her friends outside as well.

When LaVerdiere, 18, of Oakland, is not doing school work, playing sports or hiking Messalonskee Trail along with her dog, Brady — who “loves to run around and be chased” — she’s busy at Flagship Cinemas in Waterville, where she’s a supervisor in charge of training crew members and organizing other things.

“I’ve got a lot of friends from different schools there,” said LaVerdiere, who was cited a day or so earlier by Principal Callan as “one of those kids who always has a smile on her face, but is not afraid to speak her opinion.”

Callan called LaVerdiere “a really good role model for other students and a good school citizen. If you ask her to do something, she’ll do it.” LaVerdiere transferred to Messalonskee in her junior year and became one of the Top 10 graduates. Before that, she attended Temple Academy.

LaVerdiere spoke Wednesday shortly after returning from a seniors’ tour of several elementary schools in the district, including Belgrade Central and Williams Elementary schools. The younger children lined up to applaud the seniors in their red-and-blue caps and gowns.

“They made us signs,” LaVerdiere said. “They were just all out in front of the classrooms. They put their hands up and we gave them high fives as we went by. They were just very sweet.”

LaVerdiere is contemplating a future in secondary education in the area of mathematics.

On Thursday evening, she and 150 other seniors went through the commencement ceremony with smiles, cheers and a smattering of small bouncy balls scattering across the stage.

Callan welcomed the seniors, their families and their friends, and congratulated the class of 2017, complimenting them particularly for their volunteer efforts. “The amount of community service hours that you have committed to throughout the year speak to your character and unselfishness to put others ahead of yourself,” she said.

She also told them they are “welcome to come back any time.”

Class president Gabriela Languet offered some closing thoughts, reminding her fellow graduates, “Even when they changed the schedule for classes on us every years, we pushed through and showed we could conquer. We’ve survived a power outage and a fox on school grounds.” She told them: “You are as prepared as you need to be, and you will achieve great things.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

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Twitter: @betadams