WATERVILLE — Tanesha Kitchin wasn’t sure she was going to make it through her senior year, but as she stood in her purple graduation gown, surrounded by her Waterville Senior High School classmates Thursday night, she beamed.

“I’m so happy to finally be here and I’m so proud of myself,” Kitchin said. “I’m proud of everybody that’s graduating. They worked really hard and they got here, and there’s a lot of people who didn’t.”

Kitchin, 17, is one of 120 Waterville Senior High School seniors who gathered Thursday at Colby College’s Wadsworth Gymnasium for their school’s 139th commencement ceremony. A Waterville native, Kitchin said she was excited to be leaving her hometown this fall to attend the University of Southern Maine, where she intends to study business and art.

Lily Bohner, 18, also breathed a sigh of relief as she waited to take the stage. Born in Queens, New York, Bohner moved to Waterville in fifth grade, to join her grandmother and aunt. Though she’s planning to attend the University of Maine at Augusta this fall, she’s hoping to eventually transfer to Mercy College in New York, where she can continue pursuing her passion for singing.

Bohner starred in the school’s rendition of “Sister Act” this year, playing Delores Wilson, the club singer turned nun who turns her fellow nuns into a powerhouse singing group. As she idled backstage, she was already dreaming of “a big fat slice” of New York City pizza.

Principal Brian Laramee opened the night’s proceedings, welcoming students, friends, families, faculty members and school board members before telling the audience about the thoughts that occur to him when he contemplates his students’ futures.

Most people ask young people what they want to be when they grow up, Laramee said, but he wakes up wondering who they will be. Will they be kind, respectful, tolerant? Will they persevere in the face of inevitable adversity? Will they be curious and engaged?

“For this group of young men and women, I am optimistic that the years ahead will not only include them becoming successful professionals,” Laramee said. “More importantly, these graduates will prove themselves to be useful and productive citizens.”

Students of the class of 2017 asked their English teacher, Ian Wilson, to speak at their commencement and presented him with a gift of their appreciation. In his speech, Wilson reminded his students of the hero’s journey, an archetypal path outlined in most of the world’s mythologies. In those myths, it is an ordinary person who is called to adventure, Wilson said, and that ordinariness is often a source of strength.

Wilson recalled how he grew up on a farm and hated farming. When he went to college, he was embarrassed about his upbringing as a country boy and tried to hide his background. But what he realized over time was that it was that very upbringing that helped him succeed. While his friends struggled to make it to 8 a.m. classes, for Wilson that early start time was easy. While friends struggled to balance school and a job or studying for high-pressure tests, compared to life on the farm, that was easy.

“You never know where your gifts and challenges will come from,” Wilson said. “They can come from the most ordinary part of you.”

As the graduates continued their journeys into adulthood, Wilson warned that many of their accomplishments will go unheralded. Even so, he urged them to remember the heroic in the ordinary and not to take everyday accomplishments for granted. Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s “Odyssey,” lived a life full of adventure, confronting monsters and sorceresses in his desperate attempt to get home. In real life, we face perhaps more mundane but equally important challenges like getting a degree, raising children and making a living, Wilson said.

Comparing life to an uphill climb punctuated by spectacular vistas, like a high school graduation, Wilson pushed his students to take time to reflect and appreciate their own hero’s journey.

“Always laugh at the funny, mourn the sad and dare the impossible but most of all do it with all your heart,” Wilson said.

Kate McCormick — 861-9218

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Twitter: @KateRMcCormick