WATERVILLE — Build a strong foundation and tell people you like what they do.

Those were some of the pieces of advice longtime Waterville educator Ron Webber imparted Thursday to 113 Waterville Senior High School seniors before they received diplomas during the school’s 141st commencement exercise, held in the Alfond Athletic Center at Colby College.

Waterville Senior High School graduate, Madeleine Hallen, top center, sits with classmates Thursday during commencement ceremonies at the Harold Alfond Athletic Center at Colby College in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

A 1956 Waterville graduate himself, Webber has been a teacher, coach or substitute teacher in the school district for more than 40 years. The school’s soccer field on West River Road is named for him.

He told the seniors their journey in life will not be smooth and that there will be detours, distractions and errors that they will learn from and move on; but what they need most is a strong foundation — one that will work for them and give them a sense of success and well-being.

“Find the one that works for you,” he said. “Your first foundation came from your family at home and your life and friends at school.”

Known as a teacher who engages students by telling stories, Webber talked about his youth, when he climbed Mount Katahdin, saw the green forest, blue lakes, ponds and sky, and the feeling he experienced became a foundation. He applied for being a game warden and was accepted but the entered the U.S. Army and worked as an operating room technician in Germany. He contemplated becoming a doctor, but ultimately went to University of Maine and studied to be a teacher.

Webber urged the seniors to use meaningful words with people they care about, such as “I like what you do.”

“That’s a powerful set of words — ‘I like what you do,'” he said.

He veered from his notes, as he said he probably would do during his speech, to tell a story about biking across the U.S. many years ago and happening upon a reservation in Montana where the Native Americans welcomed him in. They passed a pipe, danced in a circle and shared a meal, and one man gave him a necklace and said to him, “I like what you do,” Webber recalled.

In turn, Webber gave him a Swiss knife. He told the seniors Thursday that the Native Americans were accustomed to seeing people pass the reservation in automobiles and recreational vehicles, but not on bikes.

“That impressed them,” he said, adding that he always has liked the words “I like what you do.”

“As you move forward, your community honors each of you,” Webber said. “But more importantly, I hope you realize that the biggest award you will ever receive is what people see in you. Good luck and best wishes to the class of 2019.”

Webber received a standing ovation and cheers from a packed gymnasium.

Sara Hamilton squats down to take a break Thursday as the heat rises in the ice rink at the Harold Alfond Athletic Center at Colby College in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The seniors had marched into the gymnasium to Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” March No. 1 in D, performed by the high school band under the director of Sue Barre, which also performed “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The high school group Sound Check sang the national anthem under the guidance of choral director Ciara Hargrove.

High School Principal Brian Laramee welcomed the crowd Thursday and said it was a pleasure to work with the class of 2019.

“I wish you the best always,” he said to applause.

Before marching into the gymnasium, senior Madeleine Hallen, 17, mingled with her classmates in the ice arena.

Accepted at Tufts University, Hallen plans to study biomedical engineering, she said.

“I’ll probably end up going for my masters and in the long term, do general research and study genetic disorders and how they’re inherited,” said Hallen, who will turn 18 on Tuesday.

Hallen also was accepted for a fellowship with Tufts’  Tisch College Program, in which she will spend her first year in Montevideo, Uruguay, at no cost to her. The exclusive opportunity will enable her to live with a host family and work with students in a school in Montevideo, helping to promote science and engineering for young girls.

The first part of the program in Uruguay involves doing 30 hours of community service, and while Hallen said she is not sure what, specifically, that will entail, she has been given hints that she will work in a public school as a teaching assistant. Having taken five years of Spanish in public schools, Hallen looks forward to putting her language skills to work and moving toward her  future.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “I’m a little bit nervous just because there’s no break for the whole year. It’s not like a normal college year, where you can go home. Mostly, I’m really excited to experience a new country, especially at no cost.”

The daughter of Peter Hallen, director of Mid-Maine Technical Center, and Lisa Hallen, the high school’s director of guidance, Madeleine Hallen said Waterville Senior High School prepared her well for college and future career and her teachers wrote her letters of recommendation.

“I really enjoyed it,” she said. “My teachers were really supportive and they helped guide me into the field that I wanted to do.”

While in high school, Hallen attended the University of Maine’s Consider Engineering Summer Program, which confirmed for her that biomedical engineering was the field she wanted to pursue, she said.

Hallen was one of five new Tufts students who will spend the year in Uruguay. She will leave for orientation Aug. 19 and fly to Uruguay on Aug. 21.

Senior Brianna Quirion, 18, of Waterville, greeted her grandmother, Beverly Quirion, who held a bouquet of flowers for her granddaughter as she came into the gym in a wheelchair.

Waterville Senior High School’s class of 2019 marches on Thursday in to the Harold Alfond Athletic Center at Colby College in Waterville for its commencement ceremony. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“She’s my last baby to graduate,” the elder Quirion said.

Brianna Quirion said she plans to attend Kennebec Valley Community College to study general courses and liberal arts and hopes to enroll at Husson University afterward to focus on creative writing. She said her first three years of high school were difficult as she had no friends; but in her senior year, she made friends and had a good experience.

Teachers along the way who supported and inspired her, she said, were English teachers Joanna Ashby and Margaret Downs-Gamble.

“Ms. Ashby was very integrative with the students. She wasn’t like your normal teacher. She actually told you life stories and she integrated her life in them and she made it more enjoyable. Doctor Downs-Gamble is the one who kept me on writing, and she helped me progress and helped refer me to different colleges. She gave me a literature award for writing.”

Class marshals were seniors Kai Rabideau and Carter Jones, who also is class treasurer. Senior class president Noah VonOesen introduced Webber.

Waterville Board of Education members Greg Bazakas, Maryanne Bernier, Joan Phillips-Sandy and Pamela Trinward presented diplomas.

 

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