WATERVILLE — A few years ago, Bianca Curtis could not leave her home because she was so crippled by anxiety and depression, let alone attend high school.

But on Tuesday night, she stood before a crowd of 200 family members, friends and educators at the Mid-Maine Adult Community Education graduation ceremony, smiling, confident, radiant and proud.

Curtis, 22, of Waterville, was about to receive her high school diploma. But first, she gave a speech about how she dropped out of high school and last year decided to go back to school. She walked into the adult education office, not sure she would be able to hang in there.

She met Shawna Quimby, the adult education secretary, who was so kind and sweet to Curtis that she was convinced to stay. And she never looked back.

“They were very understanding,” Curtis said of the staff, before marching on Tuesday night into the Waterville Senior High School’s Trask Auditorium for graduation. “The people here are really amazing, supportive.”

Curtis took courses including history, science, English and computer science. She loved her teachers, including Ken Gagnon, who taught history, and Paula Raymond, who taught English.

“She was inspiring,” Curtis said. “That’s how I view her. The people here are really what helped me with my confidence. I would have never done this back in high school. I was the quiet girl in the corner, just reading a book.”

Curtis, who got a job at Integrated Sales Solutions in Fairfield while a student at adult education, plans to go on to college to study history and be an historian and possibly work as a museum curator or as a teacher, she said.

Mid-Maine Regional Adult Community Education serves alternative Organizational Structure 92, which consists of Waterville, Winslow and Vassalboro; and Regional School Unit 18, which includes Oakland, Sidney, Belgrade, Rome and China.

Curtis was the 19 graduates who sat on the high school stage Tuesday, wearing black gowns and caps with burgundy-colored tassels. Others who were absent also are receiving diplomas.

Keynote speaker Nancy Hebert, a 1976 graduate of adult education who is retiring this year from teaching at the high school and has taught adult education as well, told the students that they are heroes.

“If these people don’t meet the criteria of a hero, then I don’t know who could,” Hebert said.

One student, she said, is not a native to the United States and English was not her first language, but she overcame obstacles to earn her diploma; another student did not believe at the beginning that he had what it took to get a diploma, but he persevered.

“He dared to dream and he overcame his fears,” Hebert said.

Adult education director Hannah Bard said before the ceremony that she was impressed by how excited graduates were this year. Sometimes it’s difficult to get students to come to graduation, but many wanted to, she said.

“This year, all the graduates are so excited to be here and all of them have worked so hard and showed incredible resilience to the factors that brought them to us.”

The youngest graduate is 17; the oldest, 63, Bard said. She told the crowd Tuesday that the students are from all walks of life.

“Earning your high school credential is a major milestone in your life, one that 30 million American adults have yet to attain,” Bard told graduates. “New doors will open for you, but no one will pull you and push you through the doors. It is up to you to take control and walk through the threshold to new opportunities as they are presented to you. You have proven to yourself, your families and everyone that you are capable and you can do anything you put your mind to.”

Tyler Soule, 22, of Waterville, paced around in a classroom with other students before they headed into the auditorium Tuesday. He said he dropped out of high school in his junior year because he didn’t feel like going to school. He did odd jobs such as baby-sitting and working at McDonald’s before he finally decided to go back to earn a diploma.

“I just wanted to get my GED so I could go on to higher education,” he said. “I just felt it was time. My highest grade was in language arts, so I’d like to do something along those lines,” he said, adding that he wants to go to college.

He said he was nervous about going back to school, but his fears were allayed when he started classes.

“I met everybody and everybody was nice and easy to deal with,” he said. “It’s not bad at all.”

Raymond, who teaches mathematics, keyboarding and computer science in addition to English, said she was proud of the students.

“They work very hard,” she said. “They come from incredible circumstances and they surge through; and even when they quit, they come back and they get it. Earning that high school diploma is a big deal — it just is. There’s something about it they feel so good about having done it.”

Student emcee Tinecha Hallee welcomed the crowd and introduced speakers, and Randall Rodrigue sang “Million Reasons,” by Lady Gaga.

Rosalia Adametz could not give a student address in person, as she had other obligations, but she appeared via video to tell her story of earning her diploma. Student Robert Preble was to give an address but was feeling ill and could not attend, according to officials.

Alternative Organizational Structure 92 Superintendent Eric Haley and Regional School Unit 18 Superintendent Gary Smith presented diplomas, and Jeff Mosher orchestrated the processional and recessional music.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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