WATERVILLE — Phoenix Gatlin, 18, was beaming.

Phoenix Gatlin waits with other Waterville Senior High School seniors in the lobby of the school Thursday night before a bus ride to Colby College for commencement ceremonies. Gatlin, 18, plans to go to college to study aviation and become a pilot. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

She stood in the lobby at Waterville Senior High School on Thursday night, 45 minutes before she and 102 other seniors were to ride a bus to Colby College for the school’s 144th commencement ceremonies.

“I’m going to University of Maine at Augusta for aviation,” she said. “I’m going to be a pilot.”

Gatlin has been in the Jobs for Maine’s Graduates program since she was in junior high school. When she was a sophomore, she toured UMA with fellow JMG students and Dana Bushee, a JMG specialist.

Bushee recalled Thursday that during the tour Gatlin stepped into a flight simulator that is part of UMA’s aviation program.

“When I saw her face when she got out of it, it was like she was glowing,” Bushee said.


Bushee didn’t learn until a year later that Gatlin had decided to pursue a career in aviation.

“I had no idea that the seeds had been planted at that time,” she said.

Gatlin said she wants to fly tourists along the Maine coast.

“My grandmother’s brother recently passed and he was a pilot,” she said. “He left his plane in the family. I plan to take that on … and just fly it and keep the plane in the family.”

Gatlin was captain of the high school soccer team and has worked several months at Woodlands Senior Living center in Waterville where she is a cook, having been promoted from being a server. She learned from the JMG program how to be assertive, and asked for a raise and got it, she said. She credits the JMG program, and Bushee, with giving her the skills to succeed.

“I’ve learned so many things from her,” Gatlin said. “I learned how to budget from her and that’s how I bought my first car. She also helped me build resumes and gave me the skills to build my career.”


The goal of JMG, Bushee said, is for all Maine students to graduate and earn some post secondary credentials of value and to find careers that are meaningful and special to them. Gatlin was awarded several scholarships, including a $20,000 Mary L. George Memorial Scholarship and the Elm City Science Award. She and 18 other graduates in the JMG program will continue to be supported by JMG until they are 24.

“She’s just one of our JMG family, so she’s got a piece of my heart,” Bushee said.

After arriving Thursday at the O’Neil | O’Donnell Forum in the new Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center on the Colby campus, educators and seniors filed in to meet hundreds of friends, family members, school officials and others who stood to applaud them.

WSHS Principal Brian Laramee welcomed the crowd and told seniors, “Wow, what a four years it’s been.”

The class, he said, had to adapt and be resilient, as their sophomore year was cut short in March 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic and they had to go to a hybrid teaching model their junior year. This year, while seniors were able to return to more normal activities, they still had to adapt to protocols and stops and starts, he said.

“I am sure the changes you experienced over the last 2 1/2 years were difficult,” he said.


Laramee said they did not let obstacles stop them from their goals — they figured them out.

“Tonight, this is your night, Class of 2022,” he said. “We are here to celebrate you.”

Senior class president Emily Campbell introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. Lisa Hallen, head of the high school guidance department, who was chosen by the class to be speaker.

Hallen imparted several “tracks” of advice to seniors, including to say that they “can” do something, rather than “can’t.”

“‘Can’t’ gives us immediate license to not do something,” she said.

Secondly, she recommended they be present with people, and listen to them.


“Face-to-face is always better,” she said.

Thirdly, she asked seniors to be gentle with themselves, be cheerful and strive to be happy. And when, in later years, they run into a former teacher, stop and say hello, she asked.

“Your faces will look different and older. Remind us of your name. That is all it takes.”

Milling about in the high school lobby earlier, senior Steven Lopez, 18, said he felt excited about the fact that he would be graduating in less than an hour.

“I plan to go to Marvel Studios in New York or L.A.,” he said. “I want to write content for them. I want to make them a hero that can be in the Marvel cinematic universe. When I’m older, I plan to go to Japan to become a ninja. I’m a huge anime fan.”

Lopez said he enjoyed his high school years, particularly studying math, social studies, history, art and music.

“I liked music,” he said. “I like orchestra, rap, metal, jazz, classical.”

At the commencement ceremony, the high school band performed under the direction of Sue Barre. Class marshals were Hazel Dow and William Jackson.

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