Azabell Assaf, left, hugs Jacie Haskell before the Cony High School graduation ceremony Sunday at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Kristin Merrill stood before her classmates Sunday evening and compared her role model-worthy teachers at Cony High School to her role model growing up: Barbie. 

Like Barbie, “flawless” and with the “ability to do it all,” Merrill’s teachers at Cony High School in Augusta were as exemplary as Barbie and Ken, the famous dolls.

Merrill thanked the teachers for making her and her classmates feel a sense of belonging, comfort and inspiration as the students made their way through four years of high school.

“Like Barbie, teachers do it all,” Merrill said in her speech. “Educators are tasked with the most difficult duties: Developing children of the world. As they taught us the alphabet, we learned perseverance. As they directed us through PEMDAS, we embarrassed order and organization. And as they trained us to write the perfect essay, we sharpened the ability to express ourselves.”

PEMDAS is an acronym that describes the order of operations to be followed while solving mathematical expressions having multiple operations. It stands for Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition and Subtraction.

Cony High School senior Cameron Frost, left, helps classmate Alex Kinsey adjust the tassel on his mortarboard Sunday before the school’s graduation ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Merrill was one of 137 graduates at Cony High School’s graduation and was one of the honorary speakers at the ceremony.


The students walked in with red and white gowns to “Pomp and Circumstance,” played by the Cony High School band, and were led by class marshals Abigale Malone and Alexander Malone to their seats at the front of the Augusta Civic Center.

Superintendent James Anastasio welcomed the graduates and their families and friends and wished the students luck. He said his favorite thing in the 50 years of graduations he has attended is seeing people come together to share in the success of students.

“I hope wherever you go, wherever the world takes you, you continue to succeed in the same way,” Anastasio said.

Salutatorian Kameron Douin told students to “bet on themselves” and beat the odds “if we have the courage to believe it.” After that, the Cony Madrigals, a musical group at the school, performed “Caged Bird,” by Jeff Funk.

The remainder of the speeches all had a similar theme: Growing up and the fact that the graduates are no longer children. 

Nathan Shedd, the second honorary speaker, compared the student’s time in high school to riding a bicycle. Sometimes, the bicycle goes too fast and hits a tree. Other times, the bike is wobbly, but there is always someone to help pick up the rider.


“There are people around us who support us unconditionally,” Shedd said. “They help us grow, experience new things, take new chances and ride in the wind.” 

Cony High School class marshals Alexander Malone, left, and Abigale Malone lead seniors into the graduation ceremony Sunday at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Valedictorian Ayanna Goonesekere’s speech focused on the students who had to grow up quickly, and the “behind the scenes” accomplishments some students had to make in high school, while others focused on extracurriculars. 

“To those that had to work six-, seven-, eight-hour shifts in one night and then be in school again at 7 the next morning. To those who spent after-school hours taking care of siblings or managing other family responsibilities. To those who came here from other countries and had to spend time learning a completely different language and integrating to a new community. These ‘behind the scenes’ accomplishments often go unnoticed, but they are incredibly important and deserve to be recognized as well,” Goonesekere said.  

The students chose English teacher Laurie Rodrigue to deliver the address to the class of 2023, marking Rodrigue’s farewell to the class as she retires at the end of the year.

Rodrigue talked about her husband eating her last piece of cheesecake, unbeknownst to her it was the last slice. Had she known it was the last piece, she “would have savored it,” as she told her students to do with key moments in their lives.

“We spend our lives letting the final moments slip away,” Rodrigue said. “We sort of have to. It’s not realistic to celebrate the last of every experience. But this moment, your moment right now, is a gift.”

Moustafa Alsaid, center, takes a selfie with classmates Sunday before the Cony High School graduation ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

As the graduates departed for their next chapters, Merrill left her classmates with familiar advice.

“Even when we meet people who are faker than plastic, or we feel like the world is too dull and could use more pink, remember that genuine Barbies really do exist,” she said. “Allow the memory and impact of our Special, Limited-Edition Barbie and Ken teachers, coaches, administrators and staff remind you of a few final words, spoken by the original Barbie herself: ‘There’s a difference only you can make.'”

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