AUGUSTA — “Be good” isn’t just a warning against misbehaving, valedictorian Mariah Damon told her fellow graduates of Gardiner Area High School.

Damon said Saturday she still hears her late grandfather’s voice utter those two simple words of advice whenever she needs an extra push to complete something.

As a young child, she said, she thought he meant to behave herself or be nice to her brother. But once she reached high school, Damon said, she finally understood “be good” covered a much more broad spectrum of life, meaning try hard, stay focused, and be a good citizen, parent, co-worker, spouse and friend.

“Everything in life, including success, involves hard work and dedication,” she told the crowd of graduates, other students, family, friends and school staff members gathered at the Augusta Civic Center. “By using the phrase ‘be good,’ you can make yourself and your life much happier. Until we meet again, I just want to say, ‘Be good.’ Be good at everything you do whether it is college, the military or the workforce. Once you find what you are willing to put all your efforts into, go for it.”

English teacher Susan Folsom referred to the Shel Silverstein children’s book “The Giving Tree,” to impart life lessons on graduates — but not the lessons Silverstein likely intended, she said.

She said she was told, before she read it, that it is a book about selfless love, told from the point of view of a tree in which a boy plays as a child and later provides him, as a man, with apples to sell, branches to build a house and, finally, its trunk so he can build a boat. The tree is left as only a stump, on which the man sits when he is old. And the man and tree are both happy, according to the book.

But Folsom said she finds it hard to believe the tree, left as a stump, was really happy.

She warned against being either the man who takes from his friend, the tree, and seeks happiness from the tree; or the tree itself, not knowing when to say “no” to those who ask too much.

“Happiness comes from within,” she said. “Don’t think something or someone is going to make you happy. Work to find your own internal happiness, and seek reciprocity in your relationships. Don’t be that man or woman who takes and takes and takes and takes from others. Don’t ask someone to be a stump, and don’t be a stump. Learn to say “no” when it is in your best interest.”

Awards and scholarships were presented to numerous graduates.

Principal Chad Kempton said graduates received more than $104,000 in local scholarships this year.

“The support this community gives our graduates is just tremendous,” Kempton said. “So thank you, to the community, for supporting our kids.”

Gardiner Mayor Thom Harnett advised graduates to treat people the way they would like to be treated, be kind, choose their words carefully, and get involved.

“The world is run by those people who show up,” Harnett said. “The world depends on those people. Show up. Get involved. We need you.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

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