AUGUSTA — In just a few minutes, Jennifer Christensen would join scores of people who, like her, had donned black robes and mortarboard caps to await instructions on navigating their University of Maine at Augusta commencement ceremony.

Jennifer M. Christensen, winner of the Kathleen Dexter Distinguished Student Award, poses for a portrait Saturday before University of Maine at Augusta commencement at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

But at that moment, standing outside the Augusta Civic Center not long after 9 a.m. Saturday, Christensen took a few moments to consider and worry a little bit about what the change coming in her life would mean.

“I am feeling excited, but also nervous to move on the next chapter,” Christensen said. “(There’s) just a little bit of ambiguity. I really found my place here, and so it’ll be hard to move on, but I’m excited as well.”

Christensen, 21, started her college life studying biochemistry at Saint Anselm College. But in her third semester, she left New Hampshire to enroll at UMA’s Augusta campus, not sure what she would study next.

“There was so much unknown when I came,” Christensen said.

The COVID-19 pandemic had changed many routines of daily life at that point, but the Standish native was adding more uncertainty by moving to Augusta, not knowing anyone or the area, and eventually choosing justice studies with a pre-law concentration.


It was, she said, a big leap of faith. And her next chapter will be written at the University of Maine School of Law, which she’ll attend in the fall.

But first, there would be the ceremony with greetings from university officials, thoughtful and inspirational remarks from speakers like Enock Glidden — an alum who spoke to his experiences overcoming barriers as a disabled athlete in this year’s commencement address — and the national Anthem sung by Zanuck Lindsey, who traveled from Hawaii to collect his degree in music on Saturday.

And there would be Christensen, accepting the 2023 Kathleen Dexter Distinguished Student Award.

Popular and contemporary music major Tyler Lee plays one last gig Saturday with a jazz combo before University of Maine at Augusta commencement at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

In presenting the award, Jennifer Davis, dean of students, said the award is given annually to one of UMA’s top all-around graduating students. The criteria for selection includes scholarship, participation and leadership in cocurricular activities and service to the wider community.

Davis cited her work as a community advisor in the Stevens Commons residence hall, her growth as a student leader and the recognition she’s received for her academic accomplishments, maintaining a perfect grade point average. Davis also recognized her work in helping to develop a mediation course and creating a web portal for alternative dispute resolution resources for the community.

Before the applause and the conferring of degrees and the campus reception that would follow, Christensen said she’s become a leader during the five semesters at UMA, something she had never seen herself being.

“I usually sit back, but here has been a place I’ve really been able to thrive and take charge,” she said. “I’ve become a bit of a forced extrovert, but it’s been good for me and natural growth is productive for me.”

Her leap of faith, she said, has paid off and she advises others to take the same kind of leap.

“If it feels right, then go for it. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life thus far. Even though it was a quick one, it was a good one.”

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