WINTHROP — Shortly after 2 p.m. Sunday, Madison Forgue took her final steps as a student at Winthrop High School.

Marching in the step-pause-step cadence of “Pomp and Circumstance,” Forgue and 52 classmates inched closer to their futures.

But before they could move on, it was time for the traditions of transition: The speeches, the memories, the praise for accomplishments and the final jokes and budding nostalgia of graduation, with students’ families and friends gathered at the newly named David J. Poulin Gymnasium.

Winthrop High School seniors Colby Emery, left, and Noah Dunn hug Sunday before commencement at the Winthrop school. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Dennis Price, who was the theater arts teacher at Winthrop High for five years before he left in 2020 and is one of the founders of Capitol City Improv Comedy, captured some of that in  his keynote address to his former students.

“I feel like my memory of you is kind of stuck on pause,” Price said. “You were sophomores. Now you can drive and serve our country and work, and now you can go to college.”

But the invitation to speak at graduation two years after he left showed him that the most important part of their time together is the relationships they built.

In a nod to the global COVID-19 pandemic, he noted the changes it brought to the students, their teachers and their families and he gave this cautionary note.

“If  you come through this time exactly the same person you as were before this time,” Price said, “I think you are failing to honor the sacrifices of all those around you that tried their best to give you a sense of normal.”

For Forgue, even without the coronavirus pandemic, high school was a hard chapter.

Winthrop High School senior Madison Forgue dresses ahead of commencement Sunday at the Winthrop school. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“You’re reaching the point of adolescence,” she said, “and just growing up, you know?”

As she heads off to college — as will most of her classmates — Forgue, 18, will be trading in her small community for a larger campus at the University of Maine at Farmington, and the chance to meet new people who share her interests.

“I’m really into music,” she said. “I like doing things outdoors and the campus there. It’s perfect. It’s surrounded by mountains, and they have a lot of clubs and stuff that does those sorts of things, so I’m super pumped.”

Forgue said she was not sure what she will study at UMF. She loves animals and has two dogs and two cats, so she thinks she might  follow a pre-veterinarian track, with anatomy and biology classes and some general education requirements already on her schedule.

Before she gets there, though, she plans to spend the summer working with a friend at Shannon’s Unshelled in Boothbay Harbor.

Winthrop High School seniors get to their seats Sunday before commencement at the Winthrop school. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Now that she is moving on, Forgue had advice for incoming freshmen, because she remembers what it was like to start high school and be intimidated by upperclassmen.

Forgue said she had friends a year ahead of her, and they helped her break out of her bubble. Because of that, she met people she never thought she would know. She learned to appreciate herself and the things she did for herself. And she appreciated those around her who helped her along the way.

“It’s just so short. It goes by so fast,” she said. “I didn’t believe it when they said it would be over in the blink of an eye. So just be yourself. Hang out with good friends. Surround yourself with things and other people that make you happy. Really, just have fun.”

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