MADISON — Recent Harvard University graduate and Madison Area Memorial High School alumna Krysta Moulton told new graduates of the high school at the school’s 2015 commencement ceremony Friday night not to be afraid to take risks.

“The world is yours if only you are willing to look for those opportunities and seize them,” said Moulton, who grew up in Athens and graduated from Madison Area Memorial High School in 2011.

Fifty-six students graduated from the high school on Friday in front of parents, teachers and friends. Moulton, who graduated summa cum laude from Harvard this year with a degree in government, told the students that having the best test scores or being the smartest person in the room isn’t necessarily an indication of what will make a person successful.

Instead, a willingness to take risks and set oneself apart from the crowd is what will get a person ahead, she said. As a freshman and one of just seven students from Maine in Harvard’s class of 2015, Moulton, 22, said she was playing an ice-breaker game in which she had to tell something about herself to her new freshman hallmates. Part of the game involved finding people who had similar interests.

So when Moulton told them she is a Republican and no one else stood up to join her, she was embarrassed at first. “These were the people that everyone said are going to be my friends for life and I just thought, ‘This is going to be a long four years,'” she said. “But it turned out OK.”

Two people from the group approached her later that day and said they, too, were Republicans; but they didn’t want to stand up, because no one else had. She also joined politics clubs and met people who became her friends, not necessarily because they had the same political views, but because they had great debates from different perspectives, Moulton said.

She also became involved in the Institute of Politics at Harvard, which helped her to get an internship with former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown. “It was a risk to announce that I was a Republican, but many of my closest friends came as a direct result of that announcement, as did my internship,” Moulton said.

Moulton also noted that sometimes taking risks doesn’t pay off. For example, she traveled to Israel for research during her senior year but ended up having to leave early after getting locked out of her hotel and having trouble speaking the language. Even so, she said she was still able to learn from the experience.

“I encourage you to stick to your true self,” she told the graduates. “The opportunities that you find and the friends that you make will be much better and much more in line with what you want to pursue in the long term if you stay true to yourself rather than change to fit in to some mold.”

In a speech that echoed Moulton’s, class valedictorian Monica Ouellete told her classmates that both the good and bad times they have gone through have contributed to making high school what will be one of the most memorable times of their lives.

“The future holds many opportunities, and it the responsibility of each individual to seize those opportunities and prove their worthiness beyond high school,” she said. “Whether these opportunities come through college, internships or jobs, I encourage everyone to believe they can reap all the rewards of these opportunities.”

Before the ceremony, students dressed in blue and white caps and gowns mingled in the hallway of the high school. Friends Derek LeBlanc, Tristan Emery and Keith Carpenter sat together in the cafeteria. The three have gone to school together since kindergarten and all played sports together. LeBlanc and Emery will be attending Thomas College in the fall, while Carpenter is going to the University of Maine, in Orono, to study civil engineering.

“I’m going to miss seeing all my friends every day,” Emery said. “I’m also going to miss baseball, because it’s sort of like a family.”

“I think it’s going to be really different,” Carpenter said, adding that he was excited but a little nervous. “There are about 250 students at the high school here, and next year I’m going to have lectures of 300 kids. There are going to be more people on campus than there are in the town of Madison.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm