AUGUSTA — As the minutes counted down toward the 4 p.m. start to Cony High School’s graduation ceremony and the soon-to-be graduates lined up in a room just inside the entryway to march into the Augusta Civic Center auditorium under the watchful eyes of their friends and families, teacher Gretchen Livingston issued perhaps one of the least necessary instructions graduates had heard in their final days of high school.

“Remember to smile when you walk in,” Livingston said.

There was no shortage of smiling graduates as they mingled before commencement, received their diplomas during the ceremony and later exchanged congratulations, shared handshakes and hugs and posed for photographs.

Graduate Brianna Harriman, the first honor essayist, wore a big smile even though she admitted she was nervous about delivering her speech, in which she compared graduates to flowers that had grown wild and beautiful, thanks to the help of teachers who nurtured them and helped them grow.

Harriman said when she looks back on her time at Cony, she will remember most fondly her six years taking classes and laughing at inside jokes with Latin teacher Sarah Moore, who became like a second mother to her.

“Aside from giving students a place of comfort, these teachers help their flowers grow in knowledge and confidence,” Harriman said. “They teach lessons in Pythagorean theorem and responsibility. Grammar and accountability. History and maturity. The list goes on.


“It is these lessons that help us blossom into the future innovators of the world. Without you, this garden wouldn’t thrive.”

Cony High School seniors march Sunday afternoon into the school’s graduation ceremony in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Chief Jared Mills of the Augusta Police Department, who is also Augusta’s assistant city manager, said in his address to graduates that for the first time in their lives, the new graduates will be in complete control of their lives. He advised that new freedom brings immense responsibility, and that there will be disappointments and missteps along the way, but they can be overcome with hard work and by being accountable.

“You do not always have to be perfect. You learn from mistakes,” Mills said. “If you fall short of an achievement, do not blame others. Find out from the decision makers why you fell short. Own your shortcomings and become stronger and smarter for it. You will define yourself by how you react in moments of failure.”

Principal Kim Silsby said the class of 2022 had some unique and endearing qualities, including the ability to come through big in high-pressure situations at the last minute. She said the diverse class included presidents of clubs, Chizzle Wizzle leaders, award-winning Capital Area Technical Center students, top-10 state athletes, Jobs for Maine’s Graduates medalists, talented and recognized musicians and artists, students who sometimes did not have a place to live and refugees who found a home in Augusta.

Cony High School teacher Gretchen Livingston attaches a tassel Sunday afternoon to senior Jimmy Zhang’s mortarboard before the school’s graduation ceremony in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Perhaps the most unique quality in the class of 2022, she said, is the ability to adapt to pandemic-related disruptions and sometimes-overnight changes to how they received their educations. She said more than 50% of the graduating students plan to seek post-secondary educations. And 17 students graduated early.

“This class had one of the most unique educational experiences that Cony has provided to our student body,” Silby said. “They are adaptors. They have developed incredible skills in adapting to every new environment. This will be incredibly helpful to them as they adapt to life’s twists and turns.”


Salutatorian Brodi Freeman said he learned a valuable lesson in the third quarter of this school year, by, of all things, giving up a bit toward the end of the year, causing him to fail two of his classes just after grades had closed.

He said that result showed him the truth behind his senior quote, which is, “You get what you give.”

Cony High School senior Aidan Coulombe, center, adjusts his mortarboard Sunday afternoon before the school’s graduation ceremony in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“I know, it sounds a little cheesy, a little basic, but it is probably one of the truest things you will ever hear, because it applies to everything in life,” Freeman said. “If you want to achieve something in life, it all depends on how much you put towards it.”

The Cony Concert Band played “Pomp and Circumstance” as graduates marched into the auditorium and, with four graduates joining the band after they had marched, a rousing rendition of “Encanto,” by Robert Smith. And the Cony Madrigals, including seven graduates, sang “Vienna,” by Billy Joel.

Valedictorian Abigail Martin said when she thinks of the class of 2022, her focus is on all the talent her classmates have, noting they will be “incredible musicians, future teachers, scientists, artists, athletes and more as they pursue their passions.”

A chem-free Project Graduation celebration was planned for Cony High School from 8 p.m. Sunday to 4:30 a.m. Monday.

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