AUGUSTA — After seeing her sister, teammates and friends graduate, Lizzy Gruber was excited to finally have her time come.  

“To see everyone else graduate, it felt like it was never going to come, but it’s here finally and we deserve to have a great day,” said Gruber, who plans to attend Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, where she will also play basketball. 

Gruber was among the 148 Gardiner Area High School students who graduated Saturday night at the Augusta Civic Center, and she captured the emotion of how she felt about the ceremony before she walked into her last chapter with her classmates. 

“I’m excited … and scared … and nervous … and not sure,” Lucas Cote said of graduating. He plans to attend Central Maine Community College in Auburn for automotive studies and is happy to follow his passion. 

He is looking forward to “meeting new people.” He also plans to do “something funny” when he walks across the graduation stage. 

“If you are being serious, you’re not enjoying life,” Cote said.


Members of the class of 2023 wait for the 60th annual Gardiner Area High School graduation to start Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The 148 graduates took their seats in their black robes and orange graduation hoods and listened patiently through their classmates’ speeches, ready and excited for the 7:30 p.m. parade and 9 p.m. fireworks at the Gardiner Waterfront afterward to celebrate their accomplishments. 

Retiring Principal Chad Kempton waves to the crowd Saturday during 60th annual Gardiner Area High School graduation at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The ceremony started with the graduates asking their parents to stand and be recognized for the support they have given the students over their four years at GAHS and Pat Hopkins, superintendent of Maine School Administrative District 11, honored Principal Chad Kempton, who received a standing ovation, for his 20 years at the school. Kempton is leaving the high school to embark on a new chapter after this year.

Valedictorian Sydney Dayken compared the students’ time at GAHS as “little fish in a big sea” and recognized the difficult years the students had to endure with the COVID-19 pandemic taking up most of their high school career.

“We walked in as eighth graders, wide-eyed, we were used to being at the top of the food chain,” she said. “Then, we were sent swimming for our lives, in a new territory, and then, we hit lockdown.” 

Valedictorian Sydney Dayken speaks Saturday during the 60th annual Gardiner Area High School graduation at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The COVID-19 pandemic began in March of the graduate’s first year — 2020 — and, ultimately, the students did not have a sense of normalcy until this year, their senior year. Dayken said they were unsure if they would ever get back to a sense of normalcy and that during that time, her classmates took on new skills and figured out ways to make “positive changes” going into their sophomore year.

Now, as they finish their senior year, it’s an accomplishment in itself. 


“Our class has inspired people of all ages to get out. People see and appreciate the smallest acts of kindness. As we leave behind our marks on GAHS and MSAD 11, we carry on the ability to make an impact wherever we go,” said Dayken, who plans to attend the University of Maine in Orono to study biology and minor in French. 

Poet laureate of the ceremony, Lily Willigar, read a poem called “Milestone,” and salutatorian Emma Doyon spoke to her classmates on how it’s “easy to feel like” a path is needed for their future, but it’s OK not to have one. 

“It’s easy to feel like in life you need to define path and purpose, but on the flip slide, people look at life as an opportunity to see and do big things,” Doyon said. “Every graduating speech ever wants you to follow dreams and passion and career about something you love.”

Approximately $100,000 was given in scholarships to students and Dayken won Principal Kempton’s Maine Principal’s Award, among other awards, including the competitive $10,000 Sen. George J. Mitchell Scholarship. The Wes Bonney Mitchell Scholar, one of 10 chosen around the state, was Dylan Staples.

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