FAIRFIELD — It’s no wonder Helen Rankin promotes perseverance. Sixty-five years after she attended Good Will-Hinckley, she received her diploma.

Rankin, 80, was guest speaker and an honorary graduate at Thursday night’s first-ever graduation at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, which opened last fall at Good Will-Hinckley.

Rankin, a state representative from Hiram, participated in the processional into Bishop Auditorium and sat with the inaugural graduates — Caleb Chadbourne, Dominick Downer, David Hill, John Kimball and Adam Micheller.

Rankin encouraged the young men to count their blessings, be compassionate to those who are less fortunate, be the best they can be, never give up and to remember the people who helped them change their lives. verybody has unique challenges to overcome, Rankin said, explaining that her battered mother raised five children during the Depression after her father had “thankfully wandered out” of their lives.

After multiple moves, Rankin said she found a wonderful home at Good Will, which at the time was a residential home, school and farm for at-risk children and orphans. It closed in 2009 because of financial problems and the new academy opened in September.

She said she was safe, had enough to eat, had a bed to sleep in and a good school in which to learn.

Her teachers’ support buoyed her, as did a letter that then-Principal Harvey Scribner sent her after she left the school.

He told her she could accomplish her dreams.

Rankin, who went on to earn a high school equivalency and college degree and win election to the Legislature, said attending Good Will-Hinckley changed her life.

“My new beginning began 65 years ago when I came here,” she said.

Glenn Cummings, executive director of the academy, presented Rankin with a diploma, a Good Will-Hinckley blanket and a photo of Redington-Gilman Cottage, her home while she attended Good Will.

Each of the five graduates hugged Rankin after her speech.

They then introduced themselves to the guests and thanked teachers and family members for support.

Chadbourne, of Palmyra, said he chose the academy because he didn’t do well sitting in a classroom. He said his interests of fishing and camping coincided with the academy’s focus on farming, agriculture and sustainability.

Downer, of Knox, said he wasn’t sure where he might be in 10 years, but that it might involve traveling. His advice to the next class at the academy was “to go big or go home.”

Hill, of Corinna, said he had enjoyed his photography class and his job at Caverly Farms in Clinton.

Kimball, of Portland, said for every moment of frustration or doubt he had in the past 10 months, he had learned a lot at the academy.

And Micheller, of Hartland, said he liked the academy’s self-directed learning approach and that he anticipated joining the National Guard. Micheller said in 10 years he’d like to be a business owner and part-time firefighter.

“He’s learned a lot and he’s come a long way,” said Hill’s mother, Patricia Hall, during the open microphone portion of the graduation. “I never thought this day would come.”

Cummings thanked the five young men “for taking a chance with us.”

He said the academy, the state’s second magnet school, draws from the roots and vision of the Rev. George Walter Hinckley, Good Will-Hinckley’s founder in the late 1880s.

Hinckley believed people could learn from the natural environment, Cummings said.

“And he believed this place should be a home and feel like a family. You always will have a family here.”

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]


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