WATERVILLE — Dina Harding wasn’t planning to walk across the stage at Thomas College to receive her degree the same day as her son, Colton, was to receive his.

But the 57-year-old Clinton resident was convinced that both her accomplishment, a master’s degree, and her son’s, a bachelor’s, could both be celebrated at the same time.

“The leadership at Thomas suggested that I must walk, that I must talk to my son about it, that I must ask him,” Dina Harding said. “And when I did ask him, he was like, ‘Absolutely, mom, yes.’”

So, the mother and son graduated together on Saturday at Thomas College’s 130th commencement ceremony — the day before Mother’s Day — alongside 201 other graduates earning associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Gov. Janet Mills highlighted the slate of speakers at the college’s ceremony, which drew about 2,000 to the Harold Alfond Athletic Center on Thomas’ Waterville campus. Nearly half of the graduates were first-generation college students, said Mills, who also received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.

Dina Harding earned a master’s degree in cybersecurity, and Colton Harding, 22, earned a bachelor’s in computer science, graduating magna cum laude with high honors.


And they weren’t the only family to celebrate graduating together. Three members of a family of four from Casco all studying at Thomas also graduated Saturday, Mills said in her speech.

In an interview, the Hardings said they plan to use their newly acquired skills in what they see as a digital-focused future.

Dina Harding and her son Colton, seen Friday at the school, are both graduating Saturday from Thomas College in Waterville. Dina Harding is graduating with a master’s degree in cybersecurity and Colton Harding will get his bachelor’s degree in computer science. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

For Dina Harding, it was a personal experience of being hacked that led her to go back to school. She had earned a bachelor’s in business management from DeSales University in Pennsylvania before a successful career in business leadership and operations, and said she hopes to bring her new technological expertise to the business world.

“My curiosity took over,” Dina Harding said, “and to become more informed on that, and to learn about it, and then to use that to enhance my skill set to serve others, I thought would be a good value and contribution of going back.”

For Colton Harding, who graduated high school in the Aroostook County town of Easton before his mother moved to Clinton and he moved to Thomas’ campus, technology has always been an interest.

“I was never able to find the time or opportunity in my childhood” to learn about computers, Colton Harding said. “But the interest was always there … I had the desire to be a part of the future, so to speak.”


The future, of course, was a common theme for the commencement speakers who addressed the class of 2024.

Molly Sottak, the undergraduate class speaker, encouraged graduates to keep growing after leaving Thomas.

“Growth is not merely about accumulating knowledge or climbing the corporate ladder,” said Sottak, a Belmont, New Hampshire, native who earned a bachelor of science in secondary education-English language arts in three years. “It’s about evolving into the best versions of ourselves.”

Gov. Mills, who dropped out of Colby College before taking a series of jobs that eventually led to her becoming Maine’s first woman district attorney, attorney general and governor, said in her commencement address that the future is always uncertain.

“Graduates from Thomas College are better prepared than most graduates to succeed in their careers,” Mills said. “But I know you will all see changes and challenges in your future. It’s just part of life.”

Graduates should take advantage of opportunities presented to them, wherever they go, Mills said.


“They say the shortest path between two points is a straight line,” Mills said. “That may be true in geometry, it may be true in design, in architecture. But not in life.”

Nathaniel White, the graduate class speaker, referenced his own experience of changing careers from healthcare to education to say that it is never too late to return to college.

“Remember, it’s never too late to take the step and continue learning and go back to school,” said White, a teacher at Waterville Junior High School, who earned a master of science in educational leadership-principal/superintendent track.

Scarlett Raymond-Ayer of Hallowell gets help adjusting her mortarboard Saturday before Thomas College’s commencement ceremony in Waterville. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Dina Harding, the Clinton mother who graduated alongside her son, said she returned to Thomas for her master’s degree after health problems put her career on pause. It wasn’t easy, she said, though support from Thomas College staff helped her throughout the process.

“It took everything out of me to pursue my master’s,” said Harding, who finished her degree at the end of 2023. “It took everything I had.”

And for Harding’s son, Colton, having mom around on campus was never a nuisance. He lived on campus for his four years, and she lived at their Clinton home. Though they studied similar fields, their class schedules rarely overlapped, they said.


“For my entire life, she’s always been very casual,” Colton Harding said. “I really appreciate that.”

The mother and son don’t know exactly what will come next. Dina Harding works part-time but said she wants to return to business. Colton Harding said he is looking for an IT job, perhaps with a state department, and may later pursue a master’s degree in computer science.

He also plans to continue his off-campus hobby: Participating with the Company B of the 20th Maine Volunteer Regiment as a Civil War reenactor.

“Part of me just feels like I need to grow and expand and see more of what’s out there,” Colton Harding said.

In her closing remarks, college President Laurie Lachance, who recently announced that she will be retiring from the position by June 2025, told the graduating class to do just that.

“As I look back on my own graduation, I realize it was far less of an ending, and far more of a beginning,” Lachance said. “You stand here today at the threshold, and you hold in your hands, your heads, and your hearts tremendous potential and opportunity. You can do anything. You can go anywhere. And you can be whoever you want to be.”

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