MADISON — What do donuts, lightbulbs, Post-it notes and keychains have in common? Each came about as the result of an “intelligent failure,” said a speaker at the Madison Area Memorial High School graduation ceremony Friday evening.

“Don’t be afraid to stumble, fall and zap yourself every now and then,” Kathy Bertini advised the 45 graduates. “Embrace the process, because somewhere along the way you might just stumble upon your own lightbulb of success.”

Bertini is a former science teacher at Madison’s middle school who now works for the Maine Department of Education. In a speech to her former students and their loved ones, all packed into the high school gymnasium, Bertini reflected on the example of Thomas Edison’s invention of electric power generation and other innovations that arose from initial failures. She advised the class of 2023 that so long as nobody gets hurt in the process, failing means you pushed boundaries, took risks or stepped outside of your comfort zone.

“Intelligent failures are not signs of weaknesses, but rather badges of courage. Embrace them. Learn from them. And most importantly, laugh,” Bertini said.

Class President Maci Belanger also extolled the virtue of resilience, and reminded her 44 classmates just how much they had to overcome in order to celebrate their graduation Friday.

Half of the graduates’ high school experience, Belanger said, was marked by the coronavirus pandemic. “(Our freshman year) we went from worrying about whether white Nike Air Forces were still fashionable and cool, to sending out Zoom links as a way to talk with friends,” she said.


Madison Area Memorial High School graduates, Peyton Estes, left, and Laura Holden, peer out of the cafeteria door Friday as guests arrive at Madison Area Memorial High School for graduation ceremonies in Madison. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Even when in-person learning resumed in late 2020, Belanger said sometimes the students would only see one another for two days a week, and always with their faces concealed by a mask. Normal school functions like homecoming, pep rallies, assemblies and prom were axed, and by the time restrictions loosened, Belanger said the students were seniors, and supposed to begin thinking about graduation.

“Our past four years have not been easy,” she said. “In our next chapter, it is my hope that I as well as my peers choose to be the best versions of ourselves.”

Belanger, 18, told the Morning Sentinel that she will be attending the University of Maine in the fall to study mechanical engineering in Orono. She credited both playing with Legos as a child and the influence of science teacher Brian Greenlaw during high school with inspiring her to pursue that path.

The class’ valedictorian, Ashlee Clough, also gave a speech after diplomas were presented to all 45 graduates and certain students were acknowledged for graduating with honors.

Clough, 17, said she will be attending Eastern Maine Community College to study nursing this fall.

“I love helping people — anyone that’s in need,” she said.


Parents photograph the class of 2023 students Friday as they march into the gymnasium at Madison Area Memorial High School for graduation ceremonies in Madison. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Clough said her advisor at the Somerset Career & Technical Center, Lacey Butters, and her older sister inspired her to become a Maine Certified Nursing Assistant in high school.

While some other students like 18-year-old Callan Franzose said before the ceremony began that they were “enthused” to be graduating, others, like Sumner Taylor, said it felt a little scary to be growing up and moving on.

“I’m 18, you know? I gotta be a big boy now,” Taylor said. After graduating, he will attend Kennebec Valley Community College and hopes to become an electrical line-worker.

Graduates like Taylor will do well to remember that even if it’s not all smooth sailing from here — as it was not during the students’ four years of high school — like Bertini said, there can be “magnificent beauty in falling flat on your face, messing up royally and learning to laugh at yourself in the process.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.