WATERVILLE — Special education teacher Christine Rasmussen urged Waterville Senior High School seniors Thursday night to go out into the world creating as many 10-minute memories as they can.

About 1,000 students, staff and faculty members, family and friends packed Wadsworth Gymnasium at Colby College for the school’s 137th commencement ceremonies.

Rasmussen told the 155 graduating seniors that she had studied history at the University of South Dakota because she loved stories related to history.

She recounted a story about North Platte, Nebraska, set in World War II. The story, “Once Upon a Town,” by Bob Greene, was her favorite, she said.

Ten days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the townspeople of North Platte waited at the train depot for Company D of the Nebraska National Guard to arrive on its way to a military camp in Arkansas, according to the story.

The crowd grew to about 500, and when the train arrived, the people handed the guardsmen Christmas cakes, cookies, magazines, cards and other items, not realizing it was Company D from Kansas, not Nebraska, Rasmussen said.

“And from this mistake an idea was born and memories were made,” she said.

From then on, the 1,200 residents of North Platte and 125 surrounding communities would meet every train that stopped for 10 minutes all throughout the war, she said.

“I love this story of the North Platte canteen because it shows what can be accomplished in a mere 10 minutes,” Rasmussen said. “It is a story of giving and sacrifice, and it touches my heart.”

She told graduates they would leave the gymnasium Thursday night with hundreds of 10-minute memories of high school, including the moments when someone took a moment to recognize them for simply “being you.”

“To the class of 2015, here are my final words: Be happy, be yourself and celebrate. Create as many 10-minute memories for yourselves and those around you.”

Rasmussen received a standing ovation for her speech and, after receiving a wrapped gift from senior class president Andrew Godin, blew the graduates a kiss.

Principal Don Reiter’s address, on a lighter tone, was about persistence.

He told a story about a framed letter hanging on his office wall — a rejection letter he received from the president of Cheverus High School, a private high school in Portland. Reiter said he applied for a teaching position there in 1993 — 22 years ago. When he graduated from college, he said, he wrote a letter to every private school in New England, asking whether any teaching positions were available.

“Most of the 177 (schools) did not,” Reiter said. “I was so exhausted, I took the year off.”

He didn’t have a teaching certificate then, but in 1995, when he did, he started again, sending letters to more and more schools. He continued into 1998. He even applied for a social studies position at Waterville Senior High School, he said.

“I won’t name names, but someone on the stage tonight was principal at the time and apparently did not consider me worthy of an interview,” Reiter said to laughter and applause from the crowd.

Eric Haley, now superintendent of Alternative Organizational Structure 92, which includes Waterville, Winslow and Vassalboro, was that principal in 1998.

“Almost 10 years later, when he was superintendent, he realized the error of his ways and hired me as principal,” Reiter said to more laughter.

All together, Reiter, said, he garnered 386 rejection letters before landing a job. And he keeps the Cheverus letter on his wall, not as a “reminder of his past unemployability but as a testament to persistence,” he said.

“I know that each of you has experienced rejection more than once in your high school career,” he said. “Each of you has also demonstrated persistence, and tonight that persistence is being rewarded 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.”

Before marching into the gymnasium, the seniors gathered in the Harold Alfond Rink, saying goodbyes and lining up for commencement.

Class marshal Gabriel Libby, 18, said he transferred last year to Waterville from Searsport and was glad he did.

“It was really welcoming, and I was amazed at how many programs there were,” he said. “The teachers were awesome especially. Overall, it was an amazing experience.”

Named a class marshal because he had the highest grade point average among senior males — Louisa Nyhus was the female class marshal — Libby said he plans to attend University of Southern Maine to study either art or psychology.

“Art’s always been one of my favorite things to do, and this year I took psychology and it was really fascinating and I learned a lot of really great stuff,” said Libby, who also is a George J. Mitchell Scholar.

Morgan Mitchell, also 18, said she will go to University of Maine at Augusta to study business and then go to beauty school. Waterville prepared her well, she said.

“I went to the alternative school, and Pamela Mattos, my adviser, was just an amazing person,” Mitchell said. “She totally got me prepared to be able to handle the real world.”

Andra French, 17, said she plans to attend Kennebec Valley Community College to pursue liberal studies and then attend University of Maine at Farmington to study to become an English teacher. In a hurry to get to the Alfond rink, she rushed off, saying she had attended other schools in Maine and Massachusetts and Waterville Senior High topped them all.

“Best school I’ve gone to,” she said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17