AUGUSTA — Some 134 black-gowned seniors from Gardiner Area High School with orange sashes, and the occasional white sash, all marked with “class of 2017,” marched into the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday night, led by class marshals Gabrielle Cooper and Alison Newcombe.

The two were seniors as well as class president and vice president, respectively.

Cooper and Newcombe thanked school and municipal officials as well as those who helped decorate the main auditorium in Tiger black and orange, and occasionally orange with black tiger stripes.

They noted more than $10,000 was raised over four years for Project Graduation and that more than $100,000 in scholarships would be given out to the seniors this year.

This was the culmination of their high school careers and a commencement of new things.

Cooper, for instance, is heading to Dartmouth College, where her major is undecided; but she said, “I like mathematics.”

Abigayle “Abbi” Weston, of West Gardiner, balanced her academic studies — she was 12th in the class — with dance, which she’s done since age 3, and working as a bridal consultant in Augusta. She’s heading for University of Maine at Farmington, where she plans to study psychology and pre-law.

Hunter Russell, of West Gardiner, aims to study biology at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, in hopes of becoming a physician’s assistant.

In his speech to his peers on Class Day on Thursday, Russell, a four-year, three-sport varsity athlete, talked a little about what he was leaving behind — the buildings and grounds, in particular. “The school’s a little outdated,” he noted.

Jackson Kennedy, of Gardiner, wore his future plans on the sash around his neck. Kennedy is heading to Parris Island, South Carolina, on Aug. 14 for basic training in the U.S. Marine Corps. “I’m very excited,” he said. His grandfather was in the Marines as well, he said. Kennedy plans to become a combat engineer. “I’ve always wanted to serve, and the Marine Corps was the best fit for me.”

He studied law enforcement at the Capital Area Technical Center during his senior year of high school and plans to enter that field when he finishes his military service. He not only had a Marine Corps sash, but he also wore a silver cord for earning the highest rank in the law enforcement program at the technical center.

Erin Qiu, of Gardiner, graduated magna cum laude and was a member of the National Honor Society, the Spanish Club and the Civil Rights Team, even while working at her parents’ restaurant, Canton Village Chinese Restaurant, up to 40 hours a week. “I do almost everything but cooking,” she said. Qiu said she attended Upward Bound at Bowdoin College last summer and will go again this summer. She’s planning to attend the University of Southern Maine for a year before transferring to Boston University.

“I try to keep (work) balanced with school activities,” she said.

Brent Aleman, of Augusta, is headed to Thomas College to study criminal justice. During his senior year, he did an internship with the Gardiner Police Department that included ride-alongs with three officers. “They’re really helping people,” he said. “They’re keeping drunk drivers off the streets and enforcing speed limits. People come flying down the road.”

Mark Hotham, a proud dad and 1988 alumnus of Gardiner Area High School, watched from a higher tier of bleacher seats as his son Everett Hotham received his diploma.

“He’s been a member of the robotics team, the Iron Tigers,” Mark Hotham said.

Everett Hotham plans to attend Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, for culinary arts, a field he excelled in at the Capital Area Technical Center.

Speakers at graduation Saturday night included three faculty and staff members who are retiring this year.

Gary Verhille, a 1970 graduate of GAHS, spent the last 17 years as the lead teacher in alternative education at the school, and said his mentor was Art Warren, who taught him, “Never hold back and never give up on your goals in life.”

Verhille said he flunked out during his senior year at the University of Maine at Farmington and returned to finish when he was age 47 after working at his family’s hardware stores.

“I found myself sitting in classes where I was older than the instructor,” he said.

Verhille also told the audience, “I know I hold the record for having heart attacks during school hours at GAHS.”

He thanked and then introduced Barbara Chisholm, who was a school nurse for 28 years, the last eight at Gardiner Area High School.

Joseph Klofas, who taught English at Gardiner Area High School for the past 24 years, described the speeches by him and his fellow retirees: “Tonight we are covering mind and body.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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