AUGUSTA — The speakers at Gardiner Area High School’s graduation told students Saturday evening to reach out to others, not fear the future and, most importantly, not let any pasta sauce go to waste.

Laura Benedict, the owner of the Red Barn restaurant in Augusta and a Cony High School graduate — a declaration that drew more boos than cheers at the Augusta Civic Center, spoke about her difficult childhood and the importance of reaching out to other people. She recalled the challenges she faced owning the restaurant, her multiple bankruptcies and her struggles growing up with nine other siblings and a father who was an alcoholic.

“At 5, I think life had pretty much been fed up with me at that point,” she said.

Benedict said she felt hopeless as a child. At school, she kept her eyes and head pointed to the floor, wanting to disappear. Finally, another girl walked up to her and asked Benedict to be her friend, she said.

Benedict told the more than 140 graduating seniors to tell themselves every day that they won’t let people put others down or make fun of them.

“I know that bad feeling,” she said. “I know how bad that person feels.”


The student speakers — Tuesday Shea and William Bucci — had their own messages for their fellow graduates.

Shea, the class salutatorian, told her classmates to not let fear control them and to stay true to themselves.

“The fear you get in the pit of your stomach when you don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said, “it’s the fear of the known, and that’s what we’re doing today.”

But Shea, who plans to attend Boston College in the fall, told her fellow graduates that “it’s OK to be scared. It’s OK to not know what you want to do.”

William Bucci, the valedictorian, said he enjoyed his four years of high school so much because he learned to live in the present. By not worrying about the past or future, people are able to direct all their mental energy to the present moment, Bucci said.

Life’s moments are delicate and unique, he said, so they require undivided attention and appreciation.


“We have to soak it up while it’s here,” Bucci said. “Soak it up like the last puddle of delicious Alfredo sauce at the Olive Garden.”

Finally, Bucci, who plans to attend Bowdoin College, told his classmates to approach life with a smile. When a driver cuts them off, give two polite honks and a wave — with all five fingers, he said.

“If you go into school, work or whatever you do with a smile on your face or, more importantly, a smile in your mind,” Bucci said, “you will have a good day.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @pdkoenig

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.