AUGUSTA — When retiring Cony High School English teacher Thomas Wells recently had dinner with an old college roommate, the former roommate said something Wells wasn’t expecting. The roommate was very rich, having earned millions of dollars after inventing the disposable flashlight, according to Wells.

But when they met at a college reunion, the millionaire said to Wells, “Thanks for what you’ve done, and I want to tell you, I’m jealous of you.”

Wells shared that anecdote on Sunday afternoon at a ceremony for the 159 seniors soon to get their diplomas from Cony High School. It was one of many pieces of life advice he dispensed to the graduating students on the eve of his own retirement from the school.

“Think about that,” he said in a tone of disbelief. “A multimillionaire is jealous of some poor, ragamuffin teacher.”

The point Wells was trying to get across, and that he reiterated several times throughout his speech, was that the graduating students should worry more about working hard and finding meaning than about making tons of money.

“I don’t get to school at 4:30 in the morning to sit around and drink coffee,” said Wells. After 40 years of meaningful work, he said, “I’m the luckiest man alive.”


Wells earned a standing ovation from the students and those who had filled Augusta Civic Center to watch them graduate.

Some of the graduates were heading to college in and outside Maine. Others were entering the workforce or the armed services.

Four of the school’s highest-achieving students spoke at the ceremony.

One of them, first honor essayist, Noah Aube, delivered what was very much a speech for the 21st century. He compared high school to the mobile messaging service Snapchat, which allows anyone with a smartphone to send out pictures that automatically get deleted when they have been seen by other users.

Rather than letting their high school years fade from memory, Aube urged his classmates to hold onto them like a physical photo is held in a frame. Aube then removed the iPhone his parents had given him as a graduation present a day earlier, turned his back to the audience and snapped a photo of himself — a selfie — with hundreds of audience members in the background.

Another student, salutatorian Andrew Levesque, described how the failures he’d experienced in high school were actually a blessing to him as he moved to the next stage in life.


A third speaker, second honor essayist Ciara Tenney, was more forward-looking in her speech.

“I can not wait to get out of high school,” she said, describing the experience — to laughs from the audience — as “four solid, dreadful years.” Tenney then advised her classmates to “move past the immaturity” of high school and “look to the future,” but also to not be “blind to the present.”

In a similar vein, valedictorian Lindsay Watts spoke of how the students’ high school experiences would give them inspiration for the future.

The graduation ceremony was a particularly poignant one for Principal Kimberly Silsby, whose daughter, Abigail Silsby, was a member of the graduating class.

“As a parent of a graduating senior, it’s amazing how fast time went, from diapers to diplomas,” Silsby said, commiserating with the other parents and guardians in the audience who had seen their children grow up and would soon see them packing for college and other destinations.

“Today is a day to be shared,” Silsby concluded. “It is truly just a beginning for amazing adventures for them.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

Twitter: @ceichacker

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