AUGUSTA — Amid the celebration of their accomplishments, some members of Kennebec Valley Community College’s class of 2012 reflected on the sacrifices and obstacles along their path to Saturday’s commencement exercises.

Many of the graduates balanced their studies with working full time, raising families or dealing with personal emergencies, but few faced struggles as dramatic as those of Kristie Harris, the college’s student of the year.

“In the months leading up to my enrollment at KVCC, my job was eliminated, and a week later, my husband was critically injured and not expected to survive,” Harris said in remarks on behalf of her class. “I was eight months pregnant with no job, no degree, and a 4-year-old to care for. I had faced many obstacles in my life, but this seemed insurmountable.”

Inspired by a nurse who helped care for her husband, Harris enrolled in KVCC’s nursing program in fall 2008 and claimed her degree on Saturday.

“From great tragedy comes great triumph,” Harris said. “I was determined my family would triumph. I had to hit my own personal rock bottom to get to this day.”

Harris plans to work as a psychiatric nurse while pursuing a four-year nursing degree at University of Maine at Fort Kent.

She spoke of her admiration for the hard work and determination shown by fellow graduates such as Jessica Gleason, a physical therapist assistant student from Skowhegan, who never missed an assignment or class despite regular trips to take her daughter for treatment at Boston Children’s Hospital; and Lorryn Pinkham, a nursing student from Augusta who struggled initially but didn’t give up on her dream of becoming a nurse.

Commencement speaker William Alfond said the obstacles that graduates faced just made them work harder.

Alfond said that institutions of higher education are vitally important to central Maine, and so are the contributions of their graduates.

The Harold Alfond Foundation, named for William Alfond’s father, announced a $10.85 million gift to the Maine Community College System and Good Will-Hinckley in January. The gift allowed KVCC to buy 600 acres and 13 buildings from Good-Will Hinckley, a residential school that closed in 2009 and opened last September as a much smaller magnet school, which will enable the college to double its enrollment, Alfond said Saturday.

Alfond said he was pleased by the results of a survey that said 65 percent of KVCC graduates will work in Kennebec and Somerset counties.

“You are needed here,” he told the graduates. “Why? Because your community needs people who care about the quality of life. And your community needs people who not only care, but make the commitment to improve the quality of life.”

By earning degrees and certificates, Alfond said, the graduates have protected themselves in a rapidly changing world. But he asked them not to end their education on Saturday.

“This should only be one step,” he said. “Keep your minds open about new ways to learn and grow. Keep your skills sharp, keep your knowledge cutting edge. Keep exposing yourself to new approaches and new ideas. And instead of asking why, routinely ask ‘Why not?'”

Many graduates, however, were glad on Saturday simply to be finished with classes, at least for now.

“At first I didn’t feel like it was anything, but it is a big deal and a big step to get through school, to finally be done, and to start my career,” said Wesley Vought, 21, an electrical technology student from Waterville.

Vought said he started a job with D.L. Electric in Waterville on Monday and that the knowledge he gained at KVCC will help him advance in the field.

“I’ll be able to get my journeyman’s license a lot quicker,” Vought said. “That does help a lot, when you’re able to get into the field and you don’t have to learn everything in the field.”

At Saturday’s ceremony, Vought was supported by his wife, Tara, and her mother, Yolanda Vaughn.

“I’m really proud of his accomplishments and what he’s become,” Tara Vought said. “It’s really nice that I can be married to someone that’s such a great man.”

Cindi Bailey of Winslow, an early childhood education student, crossed the stage at the Augusta Civic Center decked out in cords and medals from earning high grades and playing a leadership role in the honors society Phi Theta Kappa.

Despite doing so well at KVCC, Bailey, 52, admitted to feeling nervous and proud at the same time. She plans to enroll at Thomas College in Waterville for a bachelor’s degree in education.

“I’m scared to go to the next level, but I’ll be OK,” she said. “I’ll be fine. It’s the best thing I’ve done for my life.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]


Number of graduates: 460

Student of the Year: Kristie M. Harris

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