UNITY — Staying headstrong and embracing change — even when it’s hard, even when it’s scary — are some of the most important tools for success, retired army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills told the graduating class of Unity College as its members prepared to accept their degrees.

More than 130 students received diplomas Saturday morning from what is billed as “America’s Environmental College.” Roughly 1,300 family members and friends filled Tozier Gymnasium to watch the ceremony, according to Unity College’s associate director of media relations, Joel Crabtree.

Mills, who lost all four of his limbs in an improvised explosive device blast on his third tour of Afghanistan, told the audience Saturday what he learned through his recovery. He is one of five quadruple amputees to have survived severe war wounds suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, Unity’s President Melik Peter Khoury noted in his introduction. In the seven years after his injury, Mills has penned a New York Times best-selling memoir, “Tough as They Come,” and also founded the Rome, Maine-based Travis Mills Foundation to support veterans wounded in combat. He was given an honorary doctorate in sustainability science Saturday.

“(The first life lesson I learned) is don’t dwell on the past, reminisce it,” Mills said. “I was in a hospital bed with no arms or legs. I lost 140 pounds. I would close my eyes and I would pray. … I was telling myself, ‘How do I go back in time? How do I make this not happen?’ After about two weeks of that, it kind of dawned on me, I’m never going to change the fact that I was injured. I’ll never change the fact that I have no arms and legs. I had 25 wonderful years and one bad day at work up until that moment … (and) I’ve had seven amazing years since my explosion.”

He added that it is unproductive to focus on the fairness of an unfortunate reality or try to erase something undesirable.

“You can’t control your situation, but you can control your attitude,” Mills said. “It’s up to you to make the best or worst of it.”

Even when you think you don’t have anything left to give, you do, he said. Mills wants everyone to see themselves as “a champion.”

“Look around and see all of the support you have,” Mills instructed graduates.

Student speaker Emily MacDonald spoke of the sense of community among the class of 2019 and noted the changes its members collectively have embraced already: seeing the college presidency change hands, new residence halls rise and mindsets expand from their teenage versions.

“We are adaptable,” she said. “We’ve learned to see things through, even if it’s not what’s on the original road map.”

Brianna Fleet wipes a tear away Saturday as her fellow graduates note the death of her father the night before her graduation at Unity College. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

MacDonald added that it will be necessary to continue to lean into change as the world confronts global warming, rising sea levels and other environmental problems. Each student sees the world differently and can contribute a unique perspective to spur progress, she noted.

“To solve the global climate crisis, the solution is not about plastic straws, it’s not about reusable bags, and its not about solar panels,” MacDonald explained. “It’s about active and conscious efforts from people to evolve. We as graduates of America’s Environmental College are the people ready to embrace the solution and take on the challenges.”

In his opening statement, Khoury echoed this sentiment.

“From here, you are beginning your journey to become … developers of sustainable salmon fisheries, rangers in national park systems, … just to name a few,” Khoury said. “You will go on to lead your own research, start your own business business, … and (help) solve the 21st-

century environmental issues of our time.”

He wished “passion, compassion, humor and most importantly, knowledge” upon the new graduates.

“If you keep working hard, it will continue to be worth it,” Khoury said, closing with: “May the grass be green, the rain be clean and your hearts be pure.”


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