READFIELD — Actor Timothy Simons told his soon-to-be fellow Maranacook Community High School graduates that yes, it sucks to graduate amid a pandemic that interrupted the end of their public school careers and deprived them of traditional graduation festivities, but added they are also entering the adult world at a moment in time where they can truly change the world.

“This sucks you guys, you deserve better than this,” said Simons, a Readfield native who has a featured role on the popular HBO TV series “Veep.” He addressed the graduates in a video message recorded for his alma mater. But “from now on your life gets to be your choices. You are, right now, truly able to change the world.”

He said the opportunity to change the world is real for this group of students, unlike when he graduated, because our current leaders — whom he described as “malignant trolls” — have messed the world up so badly that changing the world is now possible for the 2020 graduating class.

Maranacook, like other schools, had to significantly modify its graduation ceremonies. Typically a huge mass of graduates, their friends and families, and school officials would have packed into the school gym to celebrate the students’ accomplishments.

Class advisor Jordan DeMillo, left, elbow bumps Carter McPhedran on stage Saturday during graduation in the Mister Burbank Gym at Maranacook Community High School in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The school held a series of mini-graduations over two days, designed to keep the maximum number of attendees under 50 people at each one in order to stay within state social distancing requirements. Graduates sat in folding chairs, 6 feet away from each other, in small advisee groups for 10 separate graduations, while a few members of each graduate’s family sat together in chairs spread throughout the rest of the gym that was festooned with black and gold balloons.

Before his ceremony, Carter McPhedran said he appreciated that school leaders reached out to students to involve them in planning graduation.

“It’s not the same in masks and not being able to hug each other,” said McPhedran, the class president. “But we tried to make it as normal as possible, and it seems like this is it.”

His dad, John McPhedran, said Carter’s 91-year-old grandfather, who is healthy, decided not to come to the ceremony to avoid the risk of exposure.

Principal Dwayne Conway took advantage of the mini-graduations to say something complementary about each graduating student, lauding graduate Nathan Cushing, for example, for completing Army basic training and his hard work both in the classroom and athletics.

He said the class showed its strength even after the pandemic hit.

“Throughout these remote times this class has taken incredible leadership roles to support their school and their classmates,” Conway said. “Your leadership is going to redefine our country and world. As your principal, I want you to know how incredibly proud I am of each and every one of you for your bravery, determination, honesty and hard work.”

Nina Gyorgy holds up her diploma while posing for a photo Saturday during the graduation in the Mister Burbank Gym at Maranacook Community High School in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Valedictorian Emma Hagenaars and salutatorian Nina Gyorgy both chose to read their speeches at all 10 ceremonies in person, though Conway said they were offered the chance to pre-record their words.

Hagenaars said her fellow graduates all have different plans and ideas for the future and, despite the pandemic, have earned the skills they need to overcome obstacles in their time at the school.

“Whatever plans you may have, this experience has taught us that plans change,” she said. “Yet we all know that as Maranacook Black Bears we’ve come through a profound experience together, in which we can find the strength and knowledge to move forward in the world with confidence. We will make the most of our circumstances. Our adaptability is our biggest strength.”

Gyorgy urged her classmates to become someone like the late Stefan Pakulski, who died suddenly in 2016 and served as city manager in Hallowell and town manager in Readfield. She said he was a father figure to many people in Wayne and the Maranacook community.

“He taught me how to pick myself up, dust myself off, and start again,” she said of Pakulski. “Class of 2020, I ask that wherever you go, aim to be someone like Stefan, someone who shares their joy and inspires others to believe in themselves,” she said. “Be someone who tries to find the positive in every situation, and is able to wear life like a loose garment.”

Students and staff wore black masks, some with a gold bear paw printed on them, for the graduations.

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