WATERVILLE — The Jobs for Maine Grad’s annual Career Development Conference was held March 27 at Thomas College.

Hundreds of seniors, and select juniors, from across the state competed in a high stress career skills competition. The event is a celebration of all of the career preparation skills these students have learned in the JMG classroom throughout the year, according to a news release from Lisa Gardner, JMG director of stewardship.

Kiara Holbrook, a senior at Waterville High School, suffered from so much anxiety, there was a time when she wouldn’t talk to fellow classmates in the school hallways, let alone speak up in class. She said, “Back in junior high, before JMG, I had a hard time actually talking to people. Sometimes I wouldn’t even pass in my homework because I didn’t even want the teachers to see it, and I never spoke up in class,” according to a news release.

“For our students, like Kiara, CDC is a time when we pull everything together we’ve been practicing in the classroom,” said Dana Bushee, JMG’s specialist at Waterville High School, according to the release. “Through high-stress competitions, the students demonstrate leadership skills, working as a team, critical thinking, and the whole concept of looking and acting professional. It’s a lot of pressure, but the experience is immeasurable.”

This year JMG is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and with more than 900 students and business and community volunteers taking part, this was the largest Career Development Conference since JMG was established in 1993, according to the release. Executives and employees from dozens of Maine businesses acted as judges and facilitators as students competed for top awards in public speaking, marketing, communications, and other career-focused contests.

Along with the competitions, students networked with businesses and colleges in the college & career expo. Several students also were awarded college scholarships from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Procter & Gamble Scholarship Fund, and the Andrew L. Hutchins Scholarship Fund.

“Because of my anxiety, if someone had told me I was going to take part in this kind of conference, and actually compete in public speaking, I would never have believed them,” said Holbrook, according to the release. “But here I am, and I won first place. My classmates and I worked for months getting ready to show ourselves and each other all that we’ve accomplished in JMG. We’re very proud.”

“These students have all the talent in the world, but they need an extra push, and sometimes, tough love to push through their barriers. They are courageous and strong young women and men who can be as successful as anyone,” said Bushee, according to the release.

JMG is a statewide, private nonprofit that partners with public schools and private businesses to offer results-driven solutions to ensure all Maine students graduate, attain post-secondary credentials and pursue meaningful careers. JMG provides more than 7,000 students a year with the skills and experience they will need to reach their potential. JMG graduates become engaged members of their communities, productive adults in the workforce, and contributors to Maine’s economy.

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