WATERVILLE — Be confident, be thankful and never give up.

That was the message Jason Briggs imparted Thursday night to 126 seniors about to graduate from Waterville Senior High School.

About 1,000 people turned out for the school’s 135th commencement exercises, held at Colby College’s Wadsworth Gymnasium.

Briggs, a former Waterville High health teacher and coach and current junior high wellness teacher, told a story about a man who entered the military in 2009, the same year the class of 2013 entered their freshman year at Waterville High.

As they studied and enjoyed school, the man was severely wounded in a foreign country and brought home to a U.S. hospital, Briggs said.

During his three-year recovery, he maintained a positive attitude and never gave up. Outside his hospital door was an orange poster for visitors to read, saying if they came to be sad or feel sorry for him, they had come to the wrong  place — that fun, optimism and intense rapid rebirth reigned inside the room.

“If you’re not prepared for that, go elsewhere,” Briggs said.

Seniors and faculty members stood to applaud Briggs, who was introduced by, and received a gift from, 2013 class president Sarah Ringer.

High School Principal Don Reiter also addressed seniors, telling them a story about his grandfather, who bought an old farmhouse on top of a hill six months before Reiter was born.

His grandfather worked 10 years fixing up the home, where he retired, and then planted dozens of trees to create a bird sanctuary. Twenty years later, he had just that — trees and bushes that attracted dozens of varieties of birds every spring.

Reiter said his grandfather set a goal and spent many years persistently working to meet it.

“Persistence is defined as continuing steadfastly in a course of action in the face of difficulty,” Reiter said, “and a new field of research is showing that persistence is a better indicator of success than many traditionally valued characteristics, including intelligence.”

Reiter told seniors they had demonstrated persistence over their high school careers and their persistence was being rewarded Thursday with a diploma.

“Continue to persist and you will continue to be rewarded — with good grades and degrees in college, with paychecks and promotions in the workplace and with dedicated and caring family and friends at home.”

As seniors were preparing to march into the gymnasium, Bridgette Hill, 17, floated down a hallway in her white cap and gown, beaming.

She said she will head to U.S. Marine boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., after graduation.

“I will be in South Carolina 13 weeks,” she said. “I’m signing up for four years but if I like it, I’ll be in for a career, which is 20 years.”

She plans to study aviation mechanics while in the Marines, she said.

“They pay 100 percent of the tuition.”

The daughter of Jodie and Michael Hill, she said she met a lot of incredible people while at Waterville High, including Joe Haney, who taught Jobs for Maine Graduates. Haney was a great motivator who taught her important skills such as how to write a résumé and how to complete applications, she said. He also was very encouraging.

“I don’t think I will ever meet someone as amazing as he is,” Hill said.

Nate Rector, 18, of Waterville, was chatting with fellow seniors before heading into the crowded gymnasium.

He said he plans to attend Bridgton Academy, a college preparatory school in North Bridgton, and consider options for college while he is enrolled there.

“It’s basically a fifth year of high school, which also is for athletics,” he said.

 A soccer and lacrosse player, Rector is the son of Tim and Mary Rector. He cited Ian Wilson, an English teacher and track coach, as one of the most influential teachers he had while at Waterville High.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]

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