AUGUSTA — Gardiner Area High School valedictorian James Rinderknecht and salutatorian Kassidy Collins both spoke of their graduating classmates’ resiliency at Saturday’s graduation. It could be seen in how they made it through the pandemic that interrupted their educations, as well as through other challenges. But they also had some fun at each others’ expense, as well.

Collins, who received several achievement-based scholarships and awards, said her classmates should be well-prepared for the challenges of life, given the frequently changing restrictions and school closures prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as a large piece of the high school gym roof blowing off in a storm, canceled sporting events, and numerous staff changes at the school during their four years.

Gardiner Area High School student Kylie Maschino checks the time Saturday on Mohamed Alalloush’s watch before graduation at the Augusta Civic Center. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“I’ve come to believe the hard times are every bit as important as the easy ones,” Collins said before hundreds of friends and family members of graduates gathered inside the Augusta Civic Center for graduation. “Don’t stress too much, never limit yourself and be open to all the possibilities out there. After all, we’ve already been through a lot. We’re one of the most resilient classes to ever pass through (their high school’s) halls”

She finished her speech by noting Rinderknecht — her constant, not-so-friendly, she joked, competitor in class ranking over the last four years — had asked her for help with his graduation speech — “like he did everything else over the past four years.”

Rinderknecht, when his turn at the podium came, countered that he had indeed asked her for help, asking her and other students for life lessons he might pass on in his speech, but that he had decided to not use any of them, and noted that Cassidy declined to answer him “because she knew why I was asking.”

Instead, he focused on a life lesson he learned last year when he said he hit a low point in his life, and a friend urged him to go ahead and be sad for two weeks or so, pick himself up, and move on. He urged his classmates to do the same.


“It was the piece I’d been missing all along,” said Rinderknecht, who also received multiple scholarships. “I still have bad days. It’s normal, It’s OK to fail. You will be OK. Tell yourself tomorrow will be better. Pick yourself up, brush the dirt off you, and start a new day. All of us here are an example of that. During this past year, so many different times life got hard and we could have just given up. But we didn’t. We pushed through, even with all the restrictions and setbacks. We kept getting shoved down into the mud but we persevered. We made it. We are graduating.”

Gardiner Area High School Class of 2021 marshals Lindsey Bell, left, and Gabriella Lunt hug Saturday while leading their class into graduation at the Augusta Civic Center. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Lindsey Bell, vice president of the class, said about $80,000 in scholarships would be awarded to graduates this year.

Masks were required to be worn to attend the event, required by the Augusta Civic Center, according to Principal Chad Kempton, though graduates were allowed to remove their masks briefly after they got their diplomas to have their picture taken by a photographer hired by the school district.

Graduates wore black masks, in their black robes decorated with orange sashes, the school’s two colors.

Two walls of the auditorium were lined with poster-sized photographs of the graduates, which Kempton encourage graduates or their families to take with them after the ceremony.

Orange bunting decorations were hung and a large “We (heart) our seniors” black banner with orange text was hung over the stage.

“Pursue your dreams, have a great life… and keep us in mind at School Administrative District 11,” Kempton told graduates, referring to a Walt Disney quote printed on the graduation program cover that read, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

A parade by students and a fireworks show over the Kennebec River from the Gardiner waterfront were planned to follow graduation Saturday night.


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