PORTLAND —  The hallway along Spring Street of the Cumberland County Civic Center was abuzz this morning, but not because there was a hockey game or a famous band taking to the stage.

Associate, bachelor, master and doctoral students stood in line, donning caps and gowns and draped with different cords and hoods signifying their degree or academic merit. Turning to one another with excited chatter, they were all waiting patiently to march into the arena and become University of New England’s newest alumni.

Nearing the back of the line, Tiffany Foster of Gray, stood with other psychology majors. After receiving her degree, she plans to work for a year and then attend graduate school.

“I’m happy to graduate, but I’m going to miss the professors,” she said.

Jeff Champagne, who was graduating with a bachelor’s degree in occupational sciences, expressed similar bittersweet sentiments.

“I’m going to miss the sense of community,” said Champagne of Newfields, N.H. “The sense of togetherness and being in the same boat with everybody. I got really close to my classmates.”

Just minutes before they started marching, family and friends snapped quick pictures with Champagne.
As the sound of bagpipes echoed through the arena, family, friends and loved ones stood to watch the graduates enter and take their seats. Throughout the processional, members of the audience shouted out names of graduates, while the graduates looked up into the arena seating to find loved ones.

Today was the 175th commencement ceremony for the University of New England. During her opening remarks, President Danielle Ripich announced the university was awarding 1,147 degrees. She also noted today marked the first commencement to include all colleges of the university – the College of Arts and Sciences, Westbrook College of Health Professions, the College of Osteopathic Medicine and the College of Graduate Studies.

“Sail forth – steer for the deep waters only,” she said, quoting Walt Whitman. “I hope each of you will do that in your careers and lives.”

After Ripich’s opening remarks, she introduced commencement speaker Harvey Fineberg, President of the Institute of Medicine, awarding him an honorary Doctor of Science degree.

As Fineberg took to the podium to address the graduating class, he began joking with students, remembering the speech he heard back when he graduated.

“I know we heard a speech that day, but I do not remember anything said that day,” he said, adding they probably would not either.

He said most speeches are littered with contradictory advice, such as travel abroad and remember your responsibility to your family at home and community. For generations, he said, commencement speakers have been telling graduates “your generation is great enough to solve all the social problems.”

“If we’re so good, so great and so wise,” then why are there still problems to solve, Fineberg asked the students.

He focused in on the idea that solutions to one problem often lead to the next problem.

“Your generation’s victories, however sweet, will be incomplete,” he said. 

And before degrees were conferred, he gave the graduates a “nugget of good advice.”

“Don’t be afraid to take chances,” he said. “Give yourself and others a chance.”

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