RICHMOND — Wherever the 33 seniors are going after their graduation from Richmond High School, and whatever they plan to do there, the Richmond community has their backs.

That was clear during a one-and-a-half hour graduation ceremony Saturday afternoon in the school gymnasium, during which students and the principal gave short speeches.

Those speeches were meant for the graduates themselves — sitting on stage and bedecked in red and white caps and gowns — and for the friends, family members, faculty, staff and other supporters who packed the gymnasium to watch them get their diplomas, occasionally hollering words of support.

Several of the speakers imparted wisdom, but all expressed gratitude for the support they had received from the community throughout their childhood.

One senior wanted each of her classmates to embrace her or his “inner artist.”

Julie Plummer, the class’s honor essayist, described for her classmates how various artistic disciplines — singing, dancing, acting, sculpting — provided models of the way they’d need to approach the real world.

Singers, for example, don’t let their voices get drowned out by others and “speak up for what matters,” Plummer said, while dancers never stop moving and advancing.

Actors become the people they want to be, she went on, and “like sculptors shape their clay, you sculpt your life. You establish the effort. You establish your attitude.”

Another student speaker, salutatorian Taylor Houdlette, used her speech to highlight the fact that she and her classmates were entering new stages of their lives. She quoted the famous final line of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel “The Great Gatsby,” “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Then she reminded her classmates that now, “there is only the future.”

“Go out there and shine, show the warmth that you can bring this world. Go forth and become fearless, become educated, become hardworking, become what this world needs you to become,” Houdlette said. “Show kindness to others on the street, for you do not know what rough paths they have walked.”

In remarks throughout the ceremony, Principal Steven Lavoie cited a few of the ways his students were going to enter the world and shine and at the same time give him “a severe case of empty nest syndrome.”

A number of this year’s graduates plan to attend colleges, including Kennebec Valley Community College, Eastern Maine Community College, Maine Maritime Academy, several of the public universities around the state, Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire and New York University.

Others were entering the workforce or pursuing military service.

This year’s senior class had the “highest graduation rate Richmond High has seen in a number of years,” Lavoie said, crediting both the students and their mentors on the staff and faculty for that achievement.

Lavoie also asked the audience to observe a moment of silence for Fred Browne, a longtime substitute teacher who recently died.

Among the student speakers, gratitude seemed to be the overarching emotion. The senior class officers expressed thanks to parents, guardians, teachers, staff members and others who supported them.

“To all of you sitting out there today, who have supported us, lifted us up, helped us through breakdowns and breakups and the crazy roller coaster that is high school, thank you,” said valedictorian Nicole Knight. “We are going to fly. You best believe we are going to accomplish so much.”

That sentiment was echoed by three foreign exchange students who also were graduating — Ferial Al Samra, from Lebanon; Salma Aina, from Indonesia; and Martin Nguyen, from Vietnam — and delivered short farewell statements.

“I’m very grateful I met all these amazing people, and I’m very grateful that I came to this campus,” Aina said, choking up. “Thank you to my friends for accepting me for who I am.”

“We should be thanking them for what they bring to our culture. Thank you for coming,” Lavoie said in response.

Toward the end of the ceremony, students circulated throughout the audience, handing out red and white roses to those they wished to thank. They then returned to the stage to accept their diplomas.

Finally, the principal had a few more parting words, which he delivered in the style of an intimate conversation with the graduates. He reminded the students of the support system they’ll always have in Richmond.

“Whether it’s a friend, a family member, a teacher, a principal,” Lavoie said, “I promise you: You call, we’ll answer.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker


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