AUGUSTA – The University of Maine at Augusta is known for its diverse student population, but many who took part in Saturday’s commencement at the Augusta Civic Center have at least one thing in common with generations of graduates: An uncertain future.

“I don’t know,” said Drew Salisbury of Readfield, when asked what he planned to do with his associate degree in jazz and contemporary music. “It’s more for personal fulfillment.”

Even students with more utilitarian degrees are in doubt due to a job market depressed by a dismal economy.

“It’s hard right now because a lot of hospitals are laying off,” said Lauren Blanchard of Sidney, who earned an associate degree in nursing.

The sour economy did little, however, to dim the optimistic spirit that prevailed among the nearly 400 students who took part in the graduation. A total of 575 students graduated from UMaine at Augusta, which includes University College of Bangor and University College Centers.

Commencement speaker Irwin Gratz, anchor of Maine Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” cautioned graduates against letting limits of the economy devour their dreams.

“I have the nagging sense we are realizing few big dreams and my suspicion is that it’s because our capacity to dream is being overwhelmed by our recognition of limits,” Gratz said. “We seem almost to be losing our nerve.”

Gratz recalled Apollo 8 astronauts reading from Genesis as they orbited the moon. That memory, Gratz said, was made possible by those who dreamed beyond what other believed possible.

“Today, you take what you’ve learned and enter the world of possibilities,” Gratz said. “Take with you your dreams. Limits have their place, but hold fast to your dreams because they are what will move us forward.”

Gayle Holden is well on her way toward accepting that challenge. The 47-year-old from Richmond graduated with a bachelor’s in social science. A mother of three, she juggled studies, family, two part-time jobs and a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. She received the Distinguished Student Award.

Peter Thompson, Kennebec Valley Chamber president and former four-term Augusta mayor, received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

Maj. Gen. John W. Libby, the soon-to-retire adjutant general of the Maine Army National Guard, received the President’s Award for Distinguished Service.

Jay Adams, former Old Fort Western director, received the Distinguished Achievement Award.

Anita Kurth, English professor, received the Distinguished Educator Award, and Christopher Lage, an assistant professor of biology, received the Distinguished Scholar Award.


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