WATERVILLE — Earning a bachelor’s degree by taking classes at night while trying to raise two sons and work a full-time job wasn’t easy, and there were times when Nina Brickett didn’t think she could do it.

“I can say with certainty that very few people ever thought I would be standing on this stage,” Brickett said in an address Saturday to about 2,000 people gathered on the campus of Thomas College for the school’s 122nd graduation ceremony. “But after overcoming numerous challenges, I’ve finally achieved one of my personal goals.”

Brickett, of Rome, was one of 143 students who graduated with bachelor’s degrees from Thomas on Saturday. Another 59 graduated with master’s degrees and six earned associate degrees in an afternoon ceremony at the Harold Alfond Athletic Center.

“Here’s my advice: First, set goals for yourself,” Brickett said to her classmates. “When the day is done you will be truly proud of yourself, and you might just inspire others to achieve their goals. Second, we all make mistakes. Keep in mind that your past is a life lesson, not a life sentence.”

Brickett was one of three student speakers at Saturday’s graduation, which also included addresses from students Hollie Kozlowski and Eric Brooks. The commencement speaker was Lawrence Sterrs, former chief executive officer of telecommunications company UniTek Inc. and current board chairman of the nonprofit arts organization Waterville Creates!.

In a short and at times humorous address, Sterrs asked the graduates to keep in mind two words in the future — “attitude” and “respect.”

“If you’re enthusiastic and optimistic, it will open more doors for you than you can imagine,” he said. He also reminded the students to show respect — for the Earth, for others around them and for themselves. “There are all kinds of definitions for the word ‘respect’ out there, but let me give you mine,” Sterrs said. “Respect is an active curiosity towards all things and a predisposition to openness and understanding.”

Thomas College President Laurie Lachance, who also spoke Saturday, reminded students that who they are as people is just as important as the work they do.

“Throughout your life people have been asking you, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?'” Lanchance said. “But today I want to talk about who you want to be.”

In addition to being kind, accepting and open, Lachance also reminded the class of 2016 to be themselves.

“Each and every one of you has a unique gift that you bring to this world,” she said. “Be proud of who you are, where you come from and all you’ve accomplished. Everyone here today is very proud of you, and we know you will continue to succeed.”

Located on West River Road in Waterville, Thomas College has a student population of about 1,000, including many students from Maine. About 67 percent of the student body is also made up of first-generation students, according to the school’s website.

After Saturday’s ceremony, the graduates were greeted by relatives and friends at an outdoor reception.

“I’m happy it’s over,” said graduate Holden Luce, of Clinton. “I’m going to miss certain things like living here and the atmosphere on campus, but it certainly was time (to graduate).

Luce, who earned a degree in finance, said he plans to “wing it” for the time being and is traveling to Southeast Asia with relatives this summer.

Classmate Domingo Cheleuitte, of Winthrop, is starting his master’s degree in business administration this summer at college. “I’m surprised it went by this fast,” said Cheleuitte, 22. “It just breezed by.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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