SKOWHEGAN — Pack your bags well, find a life boat to rescue you, go find a rainbow, explore, eat some cake, be creative and keep moving forward.

Those were the seven pieces of advice Skowhegan High School valedictorian Carey B. Lee imparted to fellow seniors Sunday before they received diplomas during commencement exercises.

Family members, friends, faculty and staff packed the school’s gymnasium to support and congratulate the 145 seniors in the Class of 2018 — and give them a rousing sendoff.

In a farewell to her peers, Lee asked them to thank their teachers, families and others who have helped them along the way.

“I speak for all of us when I say we are very grateful for the knowledge and opportunities gained from being here,” Lee said.

She elaborated on her seven pieces of advice to seniors, saying it is important to pack clothes, books, phones, chargers and other necessities for their journey in life, which is just starting, but she also urged them to pack more intangible items such as compassion for others, love for learning and courage.

“Some of us have already used compassion, love and courage through some tough times …” she said.

She recommended her peers make time for themselves, as personal well-being is important to success and happiness; she also suggested they expand their horizons by traveling, trying new foods and picking up a musical instrument. Before congratulating seniors, Lee urged them to keep moving forward and not be discouraged.

“There may be some snags in the road, but we can all think of ways to get around them,” she said.

The seniors marched into the gym to the Skowhegan Area High School Band performing “Pomp and Circumstance,” the first of five military marches” by British composer Sir Edward Elgar. The band was led by band and orchestra director, Jennifer Fortin.

Salutatorian Lucas E. Lenfest greeted the crowd, saying it was an honor and privilege to offer a heartfelt welcome. Like Lee, he thanked those, including Fortin, who contributed to the successes of students.

“Our music program is extremely dedicated to our education,” Lenfest said, adding that the top five students are musicians.

He also commended other teachers and the new school administration and asked seniors to thank them.

“Take the time now also to hug your friends,” he said. “Tell them what they mean to you. … Just as important, take the time now to say hello to someone you’ve never talked to before.”

Lenfest picked up a violin and with Sara R. Qualey on clarinet and Haley Surette on flute, performed “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond,” a traditional Scottish song, arranged by Qualey.

Senior class president Halie J. Judkins led a flag salute, senior class steward Clayton S. Miller read “If,” by Rudyard Kipling and Amy C. Wiggins sang a sweet, moving rendition of Canadian singer-composer Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Kristen J. Poissionnier sang a heartfelt version of “The Climb.”

Dixie Ring, chairwoman of the Board of Directors for School Administrative District 54, presented diplomas with SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry and High School Principal Bruce Mochamer.

An hour before they marched into the gymnasium with class marshals, Judkins and Felicia-Anne G. Ramos, president of the National Honor Society, seniors milled about in the school’s lobby, reflecting on past and future.

Alex Higgins, 18, of Skowhegan, gave guidance office assistant Jane Bigelow a big hug and told her he would miss her. She, in turn, told him she knew he would be successful in life.

Higgins said he planned to go to University of Maine, Orono, in the fall to study athletic direction. He said he played golf, basketball and baseball all four years of high school and loved it.

Acknowledging he felt both good and nervous about graduating, Higgins said Skowhegan High prepared him well for college.

“It’s a good, friendly environment here,” he said. “I’ve created great relationships with people here and if everyone at Orono is like the people here at SAHS, then I’m really going to enjoy it.”

Best friends Emma Dionne, 17, of Norridgewock, and Hannah Howard, 18, of Skowhegan, said they would be marching together into the gym Sunday.

They said they also will follow the same career path.

“We’re both going to Kennebec Valley Community College for nursing,” Dionne said. “We’re both CNAs.”

She and Howard said they hope to become registered nurses in two years and if they decide to pursue bachelors degrees in science, they will enroll in another educational institution for an additional two years.

Like Higgins, Dionne and Howard said the high school prepared them well.

“They really pushed community college and we just realized how much money we could save,” Dionne said. “I have heard amazing things about the KVCC nursing program.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17