Michael Fitzgerald of Scarborough sat in the stands trying to pick out his son from the thousands of students and their friends and families who crowded into the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland for the University of Southern Maine graduation Saturday morning.

Where was his son, Christopher Fitzgerald, about to graduate from the university’s Pioneers Honors Program with a biology degree, Fitzgerald wondered out loud as he texted various family members to get a better idea.

“He has a motorized wheelchair and can really get around,” said Fitzgerald, whose son suffers from Morquio syndrome, a rare degenerative bone disease.

Fitzgerald finally homed in on his son’s general location among a teeming sea of mortarboards and settled in for the ceremony, one of a half-dozen taking place at colleges across the state.

Graduations also were held Saturday for the University of Maine School of Law a few blocks away at the Merrill Auditorium, at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, Unity College in Unity, the University of Maine in Orono, and the University of Maine at Farmington. The graduates received words of advice and encouragement in keynote speeches by scholars, diplomats, politicians and business people.

Former U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell told USM’s 950 graduates who took part in the ceremony – out of 1,700 who were eligible – that they were poised to play an important role in preserving American life.


“We are fortunate to be Americans. The United States remains the most free, just and open society in human history,” Mitchell said.

He called on the graduates to stand up for a good education for all American children and to fight discrimination and injustice.

“In the presence of evil, silence makes you an accomplice,” Mitchell said.

Businessman Shawn Moody, who owns the Moody’s Collision Centers chain and is a member of the University of Maine System board of trustees, called on students to stay in Maine.

“Chase your dreams here in Maine. It worked for me,” Moody said.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins talked about the impact of a polarized Supreme Court on the nation at the University of Maine School of Law graduation, where 82 law degrees and one post-professional law degree were handed out. The ceremony included 800 family members, friends and invited guests.


“Neither party has a monopoly on politicizing Supreme Court nominees. Regardless of which party is at fault at a particular time, I believe that the increasingly contentious appointment process has contributed to the troubling partisanship on the court,” Collins said.

At the University of Maine in Orono, Auburn native and Orrs Island resident Pamela White, former U.S. ambassador to Haiti and The Gambia, spoke to the 1,800 students who graduated in two ceremonies Saturday.

The UMF graduation featured American historian and Maine native Alan Shaw Taylor, a two-time Pulitzer Prize history winner.

A Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish of Toronto, spoke at the Saint Joseph’s graduation. Abuelaish works to advance health and education opportunities for women and girls in the Middle East, through both his research and his charitable organization, the Daughters for Life Foundation.

Also Saturday, the University of Maine System campuses in Augusta, Presque Isle, Fort Kent and Machias held graduation ceremonies.

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