AUGUSTA — Messalonskee High School seniors who gathered for their graduation ceremony Thursday reflected on their high school careers, the disruptions that came with the coronavirus pandemic and the people who guided them through it all.

Messalonskee High School senior Mikayla Dalbeck sprints to her classmates Thursday during graduation in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The school held its ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center where 155 students crossed the stage to accept their diploma. Friends and family who filled the arena looked on the graduates in their red and blue robes, many with uniquely decorated caps.

The Oakland school enrolls students from Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney.

When it came time to write his valedictorian speech, Caden Cote said he couldn’t help but procrastinate. It was difficult to find one theme that reflected the last four years, he said, but he kept circling back to the idea of gratitude.

Gratitude for the teachers who helped him and tried to maintain some normalcy amid the pandemic. Gratitude for the coaches who taught him life lessons while playing sports. Gratitude for the staff members who helped feed students and maintained a clean school for students to come to every day. And gratitude for his classmates.

All of these people came together to form a community that withstood the challenges of the pandemic, he said.


“Through these years of uncertainty, the strength of our school community stayed constant and allowed for us to thrive,” Cote said. “Our resilience, perseverance and ability to work together are the qualities that our community expresses, (qualities) that have allowed for us to make the most out of our education and our high school experience in unprecedented times.”

Salutatorian Chantelle Flores commended her fellow graduates for taking advantage of the opportunities high school provides, to learn more about themselves and who they want to be. And while graduation can feel final, there is still much more to come.

“The ending of high school is simply a new beginning,” Flores said.

Like Cote, she reflected on the impact the pandemic had on the school, from remote classes and mask-wearing, to band and choir classes practicing outside in the winter months. But that just gave students a newfound appreciation for their school, Flores said.

She encouraged her classmates to reflect on their experiences and find the joy in new ones, embracing positivity as their lives move forward.

“I hope you take a few moments to think of the person you wish to become and thank those who have helped you become the person you are right now,” Flores said. “I know that all of you are beautiful people, with equally beautiful goals and dreams. From this moment forward, I hope that you all follow a path toward positivity and continue to follow the goals, dreams and passions that have inspired you thus far.”

Principal Paula Callan offered advice to the graduates, encouraging them to believe in themselves. There may come a time when one feels alone, Callan said, but have faith that you can overcome any challenge, even if it takes a few tries.

“You and your classmates will undoubtedly find happiness and success — maybe not the time frame you were hoping for — but trust me, it will happen,” Callan said.

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