Messalonskee High School graduates, as they prepared to leave their school with diplomas in hand, thanked the teachers, coaches, advisors, family, friends and other mentors who helped them get there.

Alexis Palleschi, salutatorian, said the best way to thank them is to take what they’ve given the graduates, and go even further.

“To all those mentors we’ve had help us along the way, thank you,” Palleschi said at Thursday’s Messalonskee graduation ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center. “The best way we graduates can repay that debt is to make the most of these opportunities presented to us. Let’s make everyone proud.”

Valedictorian Benjamin Amalfitano likened the life ahead of graduates to running.

“Keep a steady pace. Don’t go out too fast,” he said. “You may slow; you may even have to stop. It might take a few failures, yet hard work breeds success. The real race has begun. We’re going out strong, and I can’t wait to see where we all finish.”

Several graduates paused to wave to the crowd, pose and take in the scene as they left the stage after picking up their diplomas.

Derrion Hickman celebrated by leaping into the air and clicking his heels together, just offstage.

The graduates — boys in blue gowns, girls in red, to match the school colors — posed for photographs and chatted with friends and family before the ceremony started.

Graduate Kara Chandler, of Belgrade, surrounded by several members of her family, said she had more there who were already inside. She plans to go to the University of Maine at Augusta and major in art, with a minor in business. She plans to apprentice to become a tattoo artist.

Her father, Jeff Chandler, clutched a bouquet of flowers he had gotten for her.

“I’m a little anxious, and proud,” he said. “It has been a long time coming. At least she’s staying close to home.”

Many graduates decorated their mortarboard caps, with one saying “Hi Grampy” and another, “Future Teacher.”

Principal Paula Callan said the Messalonskee faculty watched the class evolve from gangly, scared freshmen to caring, responsible young adults. She urged them to “soar high like an eagle, and keep your eyes on your goal.”

Mackenzie Burton, class president, said the classmates learned what tragedy and grief felt like, making it through their four years together.

“I know we’re ready for this,” she said just before telling her fellow graduates to stand with her, to turn their tassels to reflect their new status as graduates.

Graduates were to depart from the Augusta Civic Center following graduation to go to their project graduation overnight trip to the Ingersoll Center in Auburn. Faculty and staff members, according to school officials, will make and serve breakfast to the graduates Friday morning, after they return from project graduation

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

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Twitter: @kedwardskj