WATERVILLE — Keep the Earth clean, find a worthy profession you love, stay on the lookout for others who share your joy, live your life as if you have enough and recognize that your success comes from the help of many others.

Those were five “essential life lessons” English teacher Margaret Downs-Gamble imparted Thursday night to 95 seniors about to graduate from Waterville Senior High School in the school’s 143rd commencement exercises. Like last year’s graduation, this year’s ceremony was held in the parking lot of Central Maine Motors Auto Group as a pandemic precaution.

“You have done an excellent job,” she told the Class of 2021. “You have successfully made it to this important day, and you did it in a pandemic.”

Senior Evelyn Fuentes introduced Downs-Gamble, who holds a doctorate from University of Texas at Austin, heads Waterville Senior High School’s literary journal and won the faculty renaissance award.

“This speaker is an inspiring, down-to-earth, loving individual who represents all the good things in this world,” Fuentes said, drawing an emotional response from Downs-Gamble.

“I was fine there for a minute … thank you, Evelyn,” she said, after walking to the podium.

The in-person event was made possible by dealership owners Chris and Linanne Gaunce who once again offered to host graduation in their parking lot to help ensure a safe gathering during the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, their son, Daniel graduated.

Just before 7 p.m. Thursday, a firetruck and police cruiser, lights flashing and sirens blaring, approached the dealership from Kennedy Memorial Drive and turned onto Airport Road, with Waterville Mayor Jay Coelho perched in the passenger seat of the firetruck.

Waterville Senior High School graduate Owen Evans rides with his brother John and parents Jim and Lisa during a parade to Central Maine Motors Auto Group for commencement ceremonies Thursday in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Family, friends, school faculty, administrators and Central Maine Motors employees watched as members of the senior class, riding in cars, arrived in the lot to the sound of Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” blaring from speakers.

As the evening sun tilted to the west and purple balloons wafted in the breeze, the class was received with cheers, applause and horns blasting.

High School Principal Brian Laramee welcomed the crowd, praised the seniors for their successes, told them he would miss them and, his voice breaking, told them they had touched his heart this year.

Downs-Gamble told seniors they had made her a better, stronger, kinder and smarter person. In her speech, she told them the Earth is their home and they may move anyplace on it.

“But you can’t leave, so keep the Earth clean,” she said.

Waterville Senior High School graduate Jayda Murray hangs out in the back of her truck Thursday during commencement ceremonies in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

She urged them to find a profession — not one their parents or grandparents or great-grandparents want them to pursue — but one that fulfills them, and when it no longer does that, be flexible enough to seek another one that brings them joy. Many people will come into their lives who share similar passions, she promised.

“Stay alert, pay attention and be ready to love them,” she said.

Downs-Gamble reminded the seniors they are resilient, fought through a pandemic, and did what they had to do.

“Class of 2021, we are proud of you. We believe in you, and we are counting on your strength,” she said.

A Waterville Senior High School graduate leans out the window of her car Thursday during commencement ceremonies at Central Maine Motors Auto Group in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Her speech drew raucous applause and the prolonged beeping of horns.

Joan Phillips-Sandy, chairperson of the Waterville Board of Education, and board member Pamela Trinward, presented diplomas. Class marshals were Emme Ayers and Zoey Trussell.

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