Laurie G. Lachance. president of Thomas College in Waterville, delivers opening remarks Saturday during the school’s virtual commencement ceremony. A list of graduates can be seen scrolling up the right side of the screen. Morning Sentinel image from video

WATERVILLE — Thomas College celebrated commencement on Saturday with a virtual ceremony.

“These are challenging times for Maine and our nation. I know this is not the graduation you thought you’d have,” Gov. Janet Mills said during the online commencement. “When you started your college education, you had a different version of what it would end up being, but I’m proud of the ways that you and your colleagues have pushed through and succeeded despite these strange and difficult times.”

The stream, uploaded to YouTube and linked on the school’s homepage, thomas.edu, began with opening marks from President Laurie G. Lachance. The names of the 250 graduates were streamed alongside the speeches.

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“This is a day of so many emotions,” Lachance said. “… another emotion that is felt by virtually all of the 2020 graduates across the nation: disappointed. Disappointed that your commencement is being held virtually instead of in-person. This is not what you wanted and this is not what we wanted for you.

“However, the challenges of this current pandemic have led all of us to reimagine our path forward and all of us have had to embrace this challenge together,” Lachance said. “The pandemic may have taken away the manner in which we celebrate and honor your accomplishments, but it will never take away or diminish the pride and joy with which we celebrate your accomplishments today.”

Thomas College on West River Road transitioned to online instruction in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. On March 15, the college suspended all in-person instruction and closed all on-campus housing and has been looking at different options on how to resume in the fall.

Lachance introduced upcoming speakers. The 55-minute video included the school’s tradition of having students speak to their peers at both undergraduate and graduate levels. Giving the commencement speech was Meredith Strang Burgess, president and CEO of Burgess Advertising & Marketing.

“(Although) this isn’t the graduation day you envisioned, it may well just cap off the most memorable few months of your lives,” she said in the video. “I’m sorry that we can’t be together in-person, but it is just one of the many things that has turned out different than we all planned. In fact, many of you have already learned the more important part about education and life: every day we learn and every day we flex.”

Strang Burgess encouraged graduates to “be true to yourself, follow your passion, work hard, give back” and “keep in touch with your loved ones.”

Graduates Ryan Hablitz, Katrina Booth, Samantha Mercier and Cabot Lancaster were recognized as the Class of 2020 Thomas Scholars, who have earned the highest GPAs in their class.

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King also spoke during the virtual commencement, each acknowledging that though this is not what many graduates had hoped their ceremony would be, it is a show of resilience and has brought the community closer together.

“The resilience and determination you have demonstrated speaks volumes about your character,” Collins said. “… Thomas has prepared you well for the adventures that lie ahead. Let knowledge and values be the compass that always guides you.”

Despite it being a virtual ceremony, King says that it will be memorable for students for years to come.

“(This situation) is terrible in many ways,” King said. “In some ways, it has brought us together in terms of dealing with this terrible situation. You will remember this graduation because it was different than any other, but I hope that you will retain the great experience you’ve had at Thomas.”

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