Relatives and friends watch faculty and students march into Saturday’s graduation ceremony at the University of Maine at Farmington. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

FARMINGTON — Aimee DeGroat took a chance and found her passion. On Saturday at age 45, she graduated from the creative writing program at the University of Maine at Farmington.

The Jay woman was among the 360 bachelor’s and master’s degree graduates, out of a total of 384, who marched in the university’s commencement exercises.

But her path wasn’t a straight one.

In 2011, she was working for a call center, and had moved her way up to a management position, opening an opportunity to be financially reimbursed for taking classes. She already had a degree in accounting. It wasn’t her passion, but it paid the bills.

Aimee DeGroat, left, gets a hug from her sister Sara Turner prior to Saturday’s graduation at the University of Maine at Farmington. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

She decided to take a few classes, and because her employer would only reimburse business related classes, she was pigeonholed.

“I started taking my (general education) classes, and business classes. I took a creative writing course and the professor was really encouraging,” DeGroat said.

“’This is where you should be. You just have a natural affinity for this. Why don’t you switch your major, and be a creative writing major?’”

The professor offered to do an independent study with DeGroat, but her employer wouldn’t pay for the class.

But a door quickly opened.

“My employer decided to pull out of the state of Maine,” DeGroat said. “And I said, ‘Well, you know what, I have a decision to make. I can either get another job, something that I don’t really care for to pay the bills, or I can switch my major and do what I really want to do.’” 

She took the plunge and jumped into the creative writing program, while still working odd jobs and going into real estate so she could show houses while not in class. Then, a job managing the campus store popped up, and she took the opportunity.

“As soon as I switched majors, it was like everything fit into place. With scholarships and awards and publications, it became very clear that’s what I was supposed to do.”

Her writing quickly took off.  Her award-winning fiction examines what life is like in rural Maine, and her characters balance themes of struggle and the effects of poverty.

“I think too often we worry about the money,” she said. “I did my whole life. I worried how I was going to pay the bills, especially when I had a young child. How was I going to put food on the table? Not to say those aren’t real worries —they are — but I think at some point, you have to have more faith in yourself. If it came down to it, I could get a job in a gas station or I could work a couple jobs in a couple gas stations, but you gotta take that leap of faith and invest in yourself.”

She said some days it was difficult being the oldest student in the room, but on the whole, she found other students to be welcoming. After graduation, she’s planning to go on a cruise with her family before attending the University of Southern Maine Stone Coast Master of Fine Arts program in Portland.

‘LIVE TRUTHFULLY’

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Maine native Elizabeth Strout delivered the commencement address, her speech emphasizing the need for honest living in a complicated world.

“We just have to trust that whatever we do in the world will find its way to a person that needs it,” Strout said. “Live truthfully. Love truthfully. And do not worry about the praise you may or may not get. Treat all as an act of faith. If you live your life as best you can, you will have an enormous impact on people you don’t know … be kind, compassionate, and it will land on someone who needs it.” 

UMF Interim President Eric Brown welcomes everyone to Saturday’s commencement. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

During the ceremony,  packed with graduates, and families and friends, senior class speaker Jonas Maines spoke about his journey, finding himself through his time at Farmington.

“When I came to Farmington, I did not have a good idea about what I was supposed to do, or about who I was supposed to be,” Maines said. “My plan ended with me getting into college, and I was left to drift in an unfamiliar situation. I realized I did not have a clear idea of what my identity as a person was, and that needed to be my mission during my time here.”

 


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