Xavier Hodge scans the parking lot Sunday afternoon for classmates before marching into the graduation ceremony at Winthrop High School. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

WINTHROP — For Xavier Hodge, getting a job as a certified nursing assistant while he was in high school changed a lot of things.

It helped him focus on his school work at Winthrop High School, which he admits he had not been doing.

It gave him entrée into the health care field, which he wants to pursue, even if he is not certain the route he will take.

And seeing the health care industry from the inside during the global COVID-19 pandemic also provided him an unvarnished view of the profession, particularly as he helped care for patients who later died.

Seniors celebrate Sunday afternoon before marching into the graduation ceremony at Winthrop High School. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Hodge has been a CNA for about a year, and he said he learns more with every shift he works.

“I feel like the more I go in, the more I realize that, yeah, there is death,” he said last week as his graduation drew nearer. “But at least I — someone who is somewhat motivated to make sure that this person is comfortable, not in pain, not dirty — feel like it’s far better for me to be there and part of their healing process, than someone who really just wants the check.”


Graduation at Winthrop High School saw Hodge and his 43 classmates march to the traditional step-pause-step cadence of “Pomp and Circumstance” as they entered David J. Poulin Gymnasium.

Seniors dance Sunday afternoon before marching into the graduation ceremony at Winthrop High School. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

They listened to speeches by valedictorian Marta Suzanne Norton, salutatorian Sarah Ayan Adam and guest speaker Mark Fortin, their eighth grade social studies teacher.

In acknowledgement of recent mass shootings, Principal Mark Campbell announced at the start of the ceremony the gymnasium’s doors had been locked and asked that people not open them during graduation.

For Hodge, maybe most important: Getting that job has helped him understand the importance of balancing obligations and paying attention to mental health. He said this advice he would give freely to incoming freshmen.

Salutatorian Sarah Ayan Adam receives applause Sunday afternoon following her graduation address at Winthrop High School. Adam plans to enroll at Harvard University in the fall. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“Academics, they are very important. Your grade absolutely matters. Your GPA (grade point average), whatever, all of that stuff does matter,” he said. “But mental health is what people really need to focus on. I feel like there are so many high schoolers, so many of my peers that are struggling. I’ve struggled, too. Absolutely.”

Some of Hodge’s classmates plan to take a year off or are set to start working after graduation. Others will head off for vocational training in construction or carpentry.

Others, including Hodge, will head off to college in the fall. Before he begins at Kennebec Valley Community College to take core courses needed for whatever area of health care he decides to pursue, he will work shifts as a per diem CNA at the Maine Veterans’ Home.

And for at least a little while, Hodge said he expects to be excited and not a little nervous.

“I’m starting the rest of my life,” he said.

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