WATERVILLE — Family, friends and classmates crammed into the Arnold Alfond Athletic Center Saturday afternoon to celebrate almost 200 Thomas College graduates.

Members of the audience stood up and craned their necks to find their loved one and cheers, laughter and the sound of camera shutters filled the air as graduates marched through the building and made their way to seats at the base of a podium at the center of the cavernous gymnasium.

“We know you are ready to take on the world, as big or as small as that may be,” said Bill Alfond, the commencement speaker.

A local businessman and philanthropist, Alfond said he “grew up on Thomas College’s” campus when it was in downtown Waterville and he has financially supported the college through a charity set up by himself and his wife, the William and Joan Alfond Foundation.

Alfond applauded the graduates for the hard work they have put into their degrees, and reflected on the can-do attitude at Thomas. Graduates will be going out into the world with more choices and opportunities than when his generation graduated, Alfond said.

But graduates needed to use the skills and knowledge they gained at Thomas to make the world a better place, he added.

“Now, your job is to take what you learned, and earned, and do good,” he said.

Many of the Thomas College graduates are native Mainers, but others came from across the northeast, like Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Massachusetts. But some graduates hailed from halfway across the globe, including students from Changchun Ji Lin and Shanghai China and Dasuya, Punjab in India.

“Congratulations guys, we did it!” exclaimed Jen Day, who represented the undergraduate day division. Speaking at the podium, Day, who received a bachelor in science in accounting, recalled how much change had gone on at Thomas in the past four years, as the college expanded through new construction. At the same time, there so much about the school was the same, Day said. The staff, professors and classmates at the school were really what made the experience complete, Day added.

Many Thomas students are the first in their immediate families to go to college, said Jen Buker, college’s director of public relations. That makes graduation a really important event, and each student has about 10 friends and familiy members come to commencement, meaning that at least 2,000 were packed into the gymnasium on Saturday, Buker added.

Sherry Allan, from Skowhegan, who was receiving bachelor in science in business administration is one of those first generation graduates.

Speaking for the undergraduate night division, Allan said she intended to go to college after high school, but put it off to be with her first true love.

At the time, it was easy to get a good job with a high school education, and she quickly worked her way up the ranks at a company, where she was in a management position for 12 years.

“Then all of a sudden, it was gone,” she said.

After she lost her job, Allan found out how hard it was to get another without a college degree. Despite all of her experience and best effort she couldn’t get the same kind of job she lost, Allan said.

“My first challenge was to start all over again,” she recalled.

She finally made the decision to go back and get her degree in 2009. She worked her way through the program, attending night courses and doing homework while at the same time holding down a full time job. All the challenges were worth it, she added, because it helped her get that degree she put off decades before.

“It’s never too late to start,” Allan told her classmates. “Thomas College can help you achieve your dreams.”

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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